Parents are appealing to the government and the United Nations to bring their children studying in the conflict-ridden area to safety.
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – For almost nine months, thousands of Ethiopian parents have been living in pain over the plight of their children stranded at various universities in the Tigray region.
Several universities in the northern region warned in late July that they were facing challenges in educating students and guaranteeing their safety, putting pressure on federal and regional governments as well as the United Nations to act.
“My daughter is in medical school in Adigrat and would only be finished in a year,” her mother, Bertukan Tadesse, told Al Jazeera. “I have not heard from her and I am in pain,” the 54-year-old said.
“The constant worry about her safety became overwhelming and her father became bedridden from depression and anxiety.”
The area of about six million people currently has no working banks and no electricity, while internet and telephone communications have been cut off. There have been regular suspensions of services, as well as the closure of roads and airports, since the fight between the federal government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) began in early November last year.
The escalating conflict led to both parties making allegations of serious ill-treatment, including massacres, and no desire for compromise.
According to the United Nations, more than 90 percent of Tigray’s population is in need of emergency food, with hundreds of thousands suffering from hunger. UNICEF warned this week that more than 100,000 children in the region could experience acute malnutrition this year.
In February, a bus carrying 41 students from Mekelle University with their new degrees to Addis Ababa was attacked by unknown gunmen in Tigray’s Adi Mesino. Seven young people were reportedly killed in the attack, highlighting the complexity of the situation and the dangerous conditions in the region.
An estimated 2,000 parents and family members last week staged a peaceful protest march in front of UN society and the Ethiopian Ministry of Science and Higher Education in Addis Ababa, blocking roads and demanding the safe and immediate evacuation of their children.
Families met ministry officials and the government assured that action would be taken according to those present at the meeting.
Al Jazeera contacted the ministry and UN resident and humanitarian coordinator in Ethiopia, Catherine Sozi, but at the time of publication there was no response.
Some parents reportedly also traveled to Afar on their own in hopes of entering Tigray and bringing their children back, but were unable to do so due to increasing fighting.
Despite the danger, Helen Getachew also often thought about going to Tigray to find her only daughter.
She has not heard from the medical student for more than a month since telecommunications declined when the TPLF recaptured several cities in Tigray and the federal troops withdrew them.
Getachew is worried about when – and if – her daughter will ever return home.
“The last time I saw her was just before the conflict started when she flew back to Addis Ababa,” Getachew told Al Jazeera.
‘I begged her not to go back, but I was worried about her safety, but she insisted on going back and completing her degree and finding the professional fulfillment she saw in others and the first in us to be a family who earned a degree, ‘she said.
“I no longer have the luxury of looking forward to her graduation, but of coming out alive and embracing her in my hands.”