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Eritrea and Tigre: In Desperate Need

compiled by Catholic Near East staff

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The trouble and suffering is far from over. As this 1990 magazine goes to press, Ethiopians are bracing for another famine. According to Archbishop Thomas White, papal nuncio to Ethiopia until last month: “The danger of famine is upon the people of Ethiopia, especially in the provinces of Eritrea and Tigre.”

The misery of these people is desperate and vast. The sufferings cannot be completely revealed to those outside the country. What appears in newspapers and on TV only hints at the horrid conditions facing millions of Ethiopians every day.

Eritrea, a province with a population of about 3.5 million, is about the size of England. It lies on the northeast coast of Africa and has two ports on the Red Sea. But now it is a battlefield, an extended refugee camp and an agricultural wasteland. Because of its strategic location on the Red Sea, its complex history since World War II and other political and economic factors, it has faced many struggles recently.

Unlike the other Italian colonies, Libya and Ethiopia, which were granted independence after World War II, Eritrea was mandated to the British. In spite of international outcries and a U.N. intervention, it was later annexed by Ethiopia. For 28 years, Eritrea has been waging a war for independence from Ethiopia, a war raged entirely on Eritrean soil.

In 1984, the famine struck Ethiopia. Getting the food and supplies to the Ethiopians was difficult enough, but Eritrean civilians who lived in the conflict areas were completely cut off from services and international assistance. Their only link with the rest of the world was and is through a cross-border channel from neighboring Sudan into the Eritrean countryside.

“The bottom line is that thousands of people are starving and will die,” said Father Peter Mariam. “The problems are so complex. There are many obstacles to doing good; but, in the end, the people will suffer much.”

Father Peter, a native of Eritrea, gives spiritual and emotional comfort to Eritreans in the New York area. He welcomed the opportunity to let Catholic Near East Welfare Association members know of the plight of his country.

“There is going to be another famine early in 1990,” Father Peter continued. “We know that. The war that is raging is bad enough. If it were not for the war, the people could have made it through. My people are hardworking. They love their families. They love their land. But the war and now the famine. Too much. If there is peace, if there would only be peace, they could make it.”

Father Peter and his small band of Eritreans in New York collaborate with as many agencies as possible to bring relief and assistance to those suffering from disease, war and deprivation in their homeland.

Catholic Near East’s contributions reach them through its numerous projects and missions in Ethiopia.

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