Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the State Department Thursday to demand the Biden administration take immediate action in Ethiopia to combat a humanitarian crisis that has left thousands dead.
The protesters called on newly confirmed secretary of state Antony Blinken to prioritize the deteriorating situation in Ethiopia where troops from the federal government—as well as troops from neighboring Eritrea and Somalia—have cracked down on the Tigray region. Protesters said immediate aid is necessary to prevent millions of Tigray residents from starving to death, presenting the days-old Biden administration with its first international crisis. Attendee Makea Araya said the crisis has placed millions in danger and displaced millions more.
"We need international actors, we need the Biden administration to take action and allow humanitarian access into the region," Araya said.
The conflict puts millions of lives at stake and threatens the religious and cultural heritage of the world's largest religions. Tensions between Tigray, a region in northern Ethiopia, and the federal government came to a head when Tigray's leading political party refused to join the Ethiopian government's new coalition in 2019. In early November, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into the region, sparking violent clashes with the region's militia force. While the crisis has been raging for months, limited information has emerged about its true scale since communications have been cut off in the region and foreign media and human-rights watchdogs have not been able to access the region. Reports of the massacre of religious worshipers in a famous Oriental Orthodox church and violence across the region are mounting, however.
Selome Girma, a protester, told the Washington Free Beacon that 4.5 million people are in dire need of humanitarian aid and are being cut off from the outside world. Tigray has been plagued by several communications blackouts during the months-long conflict, which the government has blamed on cyberattacks. Girma said the United States should lead the way to break the embargo and allow outside observers into Tigray.
"We are asking the United States to please humbly try to get some sort of international investigation of what's going on in Tigray," Girma said.
She said religious and cultural history is also in danger of being destroyed in the conflict. The region is home to several major Christian and Islamic historic sites, including the site of the massacre in the Oriental Orthodox church, which is reputed to be the location of the Ark of the Covenant.
The State Department, which did not return a request for comment, has remained vague on how it will approach the crisis. The department has released a statement calling for foreign troops allied with Ethiopia to leave the region immediately. The administration, however, has yet to lay out a strategy in the event that foreign troops remain in the region. The statement also called for "full, safe and unhindered humanitarian access" to the region, but the administration did not elaborate on how it would ensure this access.
Blinken also tweeted about the conflict in November and briefly mentioned the issue during his confirmation hearing, saying that the United States needed to do more in Africa. He called for more humanitarian access and said he was concerned that the violence could destabilize the region.
Ferez Timay, a longtime Washington, D.C., resident who was born in Tigray, said the Biden administration must do more than issue public declarations.
"We want the Biden administration to act soon because as the hours go, the minutes go, it's the difference between life and death for the people of Tigray," Timay said. "We want the Biden administration to act right away."
The White House did not return a request for comment.