Each shed tells a story of loss, fear and hope. Here sits Haraya Gebreyes, a mother of seven forced to flee her hometown of Humera. Her eyes, once filled with joy, now convey a weariness that comes with injustice and uncertainty. Yet she clings to the hope of one day returning home and reuniting with her children. Hers is just one of thousands of stories unfolding inside Tigray’s displacement camps, where the struggle now is for survival.
Haraya has lived at the Aby-Adi shelter in Tigray since the war began in 2020. “I don’t know what I’ll do for my kids if I can’t go home,” she said. Four of her children remain imprisoned in Humera.
Life has become difficult without anyone to help her.
Haraya’s story reflects those of many women and children displaced by the Tigray conflict. Thousands fled their homes due to land disputes between Tigray and Amhara regions – disputes that have simmered for years but flared up amidst the fighting.
When war broke out in 2020, the land dispute erupted. With aid from the federal government, Amhara forces entered Western Tigray, seizing territory. Even after a November 2020 cessation of hostilities agreement between the federal government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), land claims persist. The peace deal failed to resolve the issue, and the Ethiopian government has failed to broker a peaceful resolution to the dispute.
Despite the lingering uncertainty, both sides refuse to yield their demands. While Amhara officials have said they will not hand over the disputed areas, officials in the Tigray Interim Administration (TIA) hope for a peaceful resolution with help from the federal government.
The Administration was established as part of the Ethiopia-Tigray peace deal on March 23, 2023, with approval from the Office of the Prime Minister. However, forming a functioning administration has proven difficult.
Lack of resources has hampered the Administrations governance, but territorial integrity has proved a significant challenge. Officials believe its structure will be operational by the end of June once the federal government disburses allocated funding for the upcoming fiscal year 2023–24. According to officials, withdrawal of other forces from the contested regions is required for full implementation.
Kindeya Gebrehiwot (PhD), head of the Interim Administration’s social development cluster, said significant areas of Tigray remain under control of other forces. People in these locations, he claims, are subjected to various atrocities and displacements. The official urged the government to resolve the boundary conflict as soon as possible in accordance with the Pretoria peace treaty and the Ethiopian constitution.
“The Pretoria agreement clearly states that Tigray’s boundary should be restored to its pre-war status and respected in line with the constitution. Significant parts of Tigray remain outside the interim administration’s control,” he said, adding “forces controlling these areas continue to commit multiple atrocities.”
The horrors inflicted on Tigray’s contested lands far exceed expectations. Reports by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International detail crimes constituting “crimes against humanity.”
Tadesse Yilma, an internally displaced person (IDP) from Humera now living in Aby-Adi camp, has witnessed thousands of atrocity victims causing a humanitarian crisis. He urges Ethiopia to allow people to return home.
“We have 50,000 IDP’s in Aby-Adi woreda relocated from Humera between 2020 and 2021,” Tadesse says.
He called on the government to allow displaced people to return home and resolve conflict rooted in land politics but entangled with broader economic, political and strategic issues between Tigray and Amhara.
While land politics hindered peace in the contested areas, Tigray-Amhara conflict stems from economic, political and federal authority issues. Studies show territories’ economic importance.
Reports indicate agricultural significance of Western and Southern Tigray. Crops account for 36 percent of Tigray’s GDP, with sesame – Ethiopia’s export – relying on Western Tigray’s resources and 300,000 farmers. But Amhara officials and politicians in the region claim the territories are rightfully theirs, saying loss would critically undermine the region.
For Demeke Zewdu (Col.), the founder and leader of the Wolkite Identity and Restoration Committee and the Amhara forces now occupying Wolkite, it is a matter of restoring a lost identity.
For 27 years, they say the TPLF mistreated the people of this region, displacing and killing many. Now, after the TPLF is ousted, Demeke and his committee have taken control with the avowed mission of returning “the land and identity” of Wolkite residents. But they administer the region with no official budget or resources, relying solely on assistance from the Amhara region.
The long game of attrition continues, with each move designed to gain a foothold in the contested territories. Demeke speaks confidently of Amhara forces occupying Wolkite, but a lasting victory rests on more than military might.
“Our forces occupy the area,” he says. “Now let us see the federal government’s next move.”
These lands hold strategic advantage – the keys to the kingdom, opening access to Eritrea, Sudan, and trade routes beyond. They produce wealth from fertile fields now laid to waste by the clash of armies. Towns lie in ruin, people displaced.
Western Tigray’s border location makes it a prize piece, able to swing influence across the entire region for whoever claims it. Eritrea watches the situation closely than any other external forces, remembering hard-won battles on this same ground.
The federal government is wary of ceding control to Tigray, fearing disruption to the existing balance of power. Yet any stalemate ensures only continued violence and suffering.
“Tigrayans and Amharans must sit at the negotiation table,” Demeke says. “Only through compromise can we resolve our differences and find a new configuration that grants peace for all.”
Countless armies have marched across these lands, seizing and relinquishing power through the centuries. This time, the people yearn for a different outcome – an agreement that resets the game, creating new alliances and a shared prosperity where every piece has a valued place.
The time has come for wise heads and large hearts, those willing to sacrifice short-term gains for a long view where all may flourish together as partners, not just players in an endless contest for domination.