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Tens of thousands of refugees have fled the Tigray region of Ethiopia after fighting erupted in early November 2020.

Our teams began triaging and treating war-wounded people on 5 November in the Amhara region of Ethiopia.

Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is also providing emergency medical care to people who have fled across the border into Sudan.

People fleeing the violence are in urgent need of medical care, shelter, water and food.

A child walks among books in the library of a former elementary school that was damaged during the fighting that broke out in Ethiopia's Tigray region, in the village of Bisober, on December 9, 2020.

The Tigray crisis in numbers

*As of 25 January 2021

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Background to the crisis

Tension between the federal government of Ethiopia and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the ruling party of the Tigray region, had been building for weeks following regional elections held on 9 September.

Despite the constitutional postponement of national elections due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the TPLF deemed the delay ‘unconstitutional’ and went ahead with the vote. This was declared illegal by the national government.

On 4 November, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed then ordered military action against the TPLF, following an alleged attack on a major Ethiopian Army base.

Map detailing the MSF response to the Tigray crisis in Sudan and Ethiopia © MSF

The UN estimates that nine million people who live in the Tigray region and bordering states may be impacted by this violence.

Should the fighting escalate, it’s estimated we could soon see massive displacements of up to one million people within and outside of Ethiopia.

Prior to the onset of hostilities, 600,000 people in Tigray were already dependent on food relief assistance.

However, with a six-month state of emergency for Tigray in place, a telecommunications blackout and limited to no access for international organisations, reliable casualty reports have been sparse and vary across media outlets.

Amnesty International reported a massacre of civilians took place in Maicadra on 9 November. By 23 November, UNHCR Sudan reported that more than 40,000 people had already registered as refugees, having crossed into Sudan.

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MSF's crisis response in Ethiopia

We began triaging and treating war wounded people at the MSF-supported Ministry of Health Health Centre in Amhara on the morning of 5 November.

By 14 November 2020, the team had treated more than 260 casualties, with 18 deaths.

Since mid-December 2020, MSF teams have been providing medical care to some of the most affected people in need in the areas we’ve been able to access inside Tigray:

South Tigray 

Between 18 December and 17 January, MSF teams in Hiwane and Adi Keyih provided 1,498 medical consultations. This intervention is now over.

East Tigray 

Since 23 December, MSF has been supporting the hospital in Adigrat, the region’s second city. MSF medical teams have been running the hospital’s emergency room, as well as the medical, surgical, paediatric and maternity wards. They are also providing outpatient care for children under five.

By mid-February, we have seen 2,212 patients in the emergency room.

Central Tigray 

In the towns of Adwa, Axum, MSF teams are providing some of the displaced and local people with basic healthcare and supporting health facilities that lack essential supplies such as drugs, oxygen and food for patients.

  • In Adwa, we are supporting Don Bosco hospital and four health centres.
  • In Axum, we are supporting the hospital and four health centres. From the beginning of the year until mid-February, our teams have treated 240 people in the emergency room and assisted 90 births.
  • In Abyi Addi, west of Mekele, an MSF team is supporting the health centre.

Northwest and west Tigray 

  • In Shire we are supporting a hospital and have given donations to several health centres. We are conducting mobile clinics in three displacement sites. In January, we conducted 3,814 consultations.
  • In the town of Sheraro, we are providing support to Sheraro Health Centre with technical medical assistance and hands-on-coaching.
  • In the towns of Mai Kadra, Humera, and Abdurafi in Amhara region on the border with Tigray, we provided support to some health centres and have been assisting around 2,000 internally displaced people by providing medical services, supplying water, sanitation and hygiene products, and constructing emergency latrines after the fighting started.


MSF's crisis response in Sudan

As the crisis unfolded in Ethiopia in early November 2020, thousands of refugees have crossed the border to Sudan. Many crossed a river in search of safety and some walked several days after having fled with just the clothes on their back. 

Though the number of new arrivals has significantly decreased over the past few weeks, there are still new people arriving every day.

Until mid-February, the UN in Sudan has registered more than 61,000 refugees.

A scene inside the MSF clinic in Um Rakuba camp, Sudan. © Thomas Dworzak/Magnum Photos


Nearly 10,000 - 12,000 refugees are located in the transit area and border area of Hamdayet where shelter, access to food, sanitation and clean drinking water continues to be an issue.

Most refugees in Hamdayet, especially those without shelter, are living throughout the village within the host community, while others live in the market seeking shelter in abandoned houses, shops and huts.

MSF is present at the border crossings and transit centres in Hamdayet, and Hashaba village.

Um Rakuba

In Um Rakuba refugee camp, MSF runs a clinic where we offer medical consultations, screen people for signs of malnutrition and help people with non-communicable diseases (like hypertension, diabetes, etc.).

We also support reproductive health, for pregnant women and new mothers, and we provide mental health consultations.


In Hashaba camp, we are running medical consultations, providing support for reproductive health, and running health promotion activities.

Al Tanideba

In Al Tanideba camp, MSF started activities on 3 January by providing regular health screening for arrivals at the reception area of the camp.

We are providing water and sanitation, primary healthcare, vaccinations, malnutrition screening and we are supporting expectant mothers. We are currently building an inpatient clinic.

more on our work in sudan >

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