Ethiopia: 72 World Food Program drivers detained in the north

People walk by the side of the road on the outskirts of the town of Dessie, Ethiopia, December 13, 2020. (Photo illustration) AFP - EDUARDO SOTERAS

Text by: RFI Follow

2 min

In Ethiopia, tensions are mounting with the Tigray region.

Arrests are on the rise after the declaration of a state of emergency last week by the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

A response to the threat of fighters from the Tigray People's Liberation Front to march on the capital Addis Ababa.

This Wednesday, November 10, 2021, the United Nations declared that several dozen of its Ethiopian employees had been arrested.


Read more

The United Nations

confirmed the information on Wednesday morning: 72 drivers from the World Food Program (WFP) are currently detained in Semera, in the north of the country.

A city located on the only road allowing the delivery of humanitarian aid to the Tigray region, ravaged by war for over a year and still in the grip of a large-scale humanitarian crisis.

Consequence of these arrests: the UN estimates that only 15% of the necessary aid was able to reach the northern region, by the road to Semera.

UN staff claim to be "

 in contact with the Ethiopian government in order to understand the reasons

 " for the detention of its employees.

The event is far from isolated.

Since the announcement of the state of emergency measures, Abiy Ahmed's government has carried out a wave of arrests, targeting Tigrayans in the capital Addis Ababa.

According to lawyers, thousands of them are arbitrarily detained, the state of emergency allowing the authorities to detain without a warrant anyone suspected of supporting " 

terrorist groups


On Tuesday, 22 Ethiopian UN employees were also arrested by the authorities.

Six of them have been released but sixteen remain in detention.

• The UN admits having difficulty understanding the reasons for these detentions

With our correspondent in New York


Carrie Nooten

This is a new attack by Addis Ababa on the United Nations: while nine of its Ethiopian employees are still detained out of the 22 arrested, the UN is now demanding the release of 72 truck drivers, who work for the food program Global and other NGOs, to deliver humanitarian aid.

These drivers were all on their way to Tigray, ravaged by war and famine, and were stopped yesterday in Semera.

They would be of various ethnicities, and there would be Tigrayans among them.

The full trucks were left behind along the road and for the UN, these arrests de facto created a "

 humanitarian blockade 

", even more serious given the situation.

Already before the air strikes of October 18, only 15% of aid reached Tigray.

Since then, it is even less.

And it is for this reason that it is crucial that these trucks be able to resume their journey according to spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric.


Receive all international news directly in your mailbox

I subscribe

Follow all the international news by downloading the RFI application


  • Ethiopia

  • UN

  • Humanitarian