Tiny Ethnic Group Fears Extinction as Tigray War Enters 6th Month


Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who in 2019 won the Nobel Peace Prize partly for his efforts to end two decades of frozen conflict with neighboring Eritrea, rushed to declare victory over the Tigray People’s Liberation Front in late November after government forces entered the regional capital, Mekelle. But fighting has dragged on and reports of mass atrocities keep emerging.

What has garnered less attention, however, is the Irob; a minority group with their own distinct language who live among the much larger Tigrayan population in the embattled region. Numbering about 60,000, the Irob now face an existential threat on top of the humanitarian crisis caused by the current conflict.

That is because the Ethiopia-Eritrea Border Commission (EEBC) that was formed in the aftermath of the 1998-2000 war handed approximately one-third of Irob land to Eritrea, even though the decision has not been enforced. “If the decision of the EEBC is implemented as it is, this tiny Irob land and people will be divided into two belligerent nations. That, almost certainly, will be the end of the existence of the Irob minority as a viable ethnic group,” activists say. 

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