November 24, 2020

Communication shut down in Tigray and attempts to connect people


"The last time I spoke with my family was on Monday, November 2nd, I spoke with my younger…

Avatar: Zemen Mekonnen
By Zemen Mekonnen

Zemen Mekonnen is a Content Creater at Addis Zeybe. She is a graduate from Addis Abeba University School of Law and Governance.

"The last time I spoke with my family was on Monday, November 2nd, I spoke with my younger brother". said Haleka Gebregerges Meles, a Tailor in Addis Ababa who has families in Tigray.  

Amid the crisis happening in Tigray regional state of Ethiopia, internet and telecommunication have been cut from 1 a.m. Wednesday, 04 November 2020 local time, according to Net Blocks Internet observatory. 

Mobile networks, fixed-line internet, and landline telephony in Ethiopia’s Tigray region have been cut off. 

Addis Zeybe spoke with Haleka and other individuals situated in Addis who have been unable to reach their loved ones for over two weeks now. 

Haleka, who has been living in Addis for over 18 years has over 10 family members including his siblings, aunts, and uncles in the regions Adwa area. "I feel depressed and powerless when I think of my family. I can't even hear their voices. I have no information whether they are fine or not." he added.

Communications remained cut off in Tigray after services ceased at just around the time Prime Minister Abiy’s office first announced "the attack and military action" on Wednesday. 

"I have six immediate family members in Tigray and many more relatives and friends."  Libanos Birhane, Chef told Addis zeybe.

She has not spoken to her younger siblings and elderly parents since the war started. 

Every time she wakes up in the morning she picks up her phone to call her father and "I desperately hope it rings but nothing. I don't know how my mother and father are doing, whether or not they are properly taking their medicine, eating right, or even if they are alive and this is eating me alive" she added

Libanos has three younger siblings who are situated in the areas of the regions of Ba'eker/Himora, Shire, and Yiha she states "I'm most worried about my brother in Ba'eker as the war was intense around that area especially in the beginning. I have no idea whether he is well or not and this is making me worry."

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and The Ethiopia Red Cross Society (ERCS) are working on connecting individuals using hot-line specifically set up to support those searching for their family members in Tigray.

Addis Zeybe was able to contact Zewdu Ayalew, ICRC Addis Ababa, who states due to the communication block out in Tigray region there has been a difficulty for families to connect both from different sides Ethiopia and outside of Ethiopia.

The ICRC and ERCS report being engulfed with hundreds of requests through their telephone hotline as well as the office in Mekelle to help people get in touch with their relatives and loved ones. At the same time, ICRC and ERCS teams in Mekelle are working at a local school to help those seeking to contact their families, mostly through short written messages. 

ICRC set up a small service in a high school in Mekelle where more than 400 people have been helped to contact their families mostly through short messages called Salamat's. The ICRC also stated that their teams have received more than 1,000 phone calls in the last week from people in Ethiopia and abroad who are searching for their loved ones.

The ICRC after identifying this crisis started a humanitarian action of connecting families as it has before in situations similar to this. "We dedicated a hotline service where we collect connection requests along with addresses of their loved ones from families then send it to our office in Mekele, where they try to locate the families using the given address. When we locate them we send a message stating they are ok. This is the work ICRC and ERCS do together". said Zewdu.

When discussing what difficulties the ICRC faces in providing this humanitarian service, Zewdu states that "What we are doing is just gliding the surface compared to the need and the telecommunications blackout in Tigray makes it extremely difficult to search for and reconnect with loved ones." 

Addis Zeybes attempt to contact Ethio telecom with the hopes of addressing the matter and gathering information as to when the block out will be lifted has been unsuccessful as we were told and we quote "We have no information or whatsoever regarding this matter."