Tears, prayers as flights resume to Ethiopia’s Tigray region

A shutdown of flights and communications for much of the two-year conflict kept many Tigrayans away from their families.

A member of the ground crew directs an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner plane
Ethiopian Airlines started flying again to Mekelle, Tigray's capital, on December 28, 2022, after a peace agreement reopened communication and transport links with the war-torn northern region [File: Tiksa Negeri/Reuters]

Kahssay Hailu sobbed, smiled and said prayers as she stood outside Addis Ababa airport, preparing to board a plane home to Ethiopia’s war-torn Tigray region.

She travelled to Addis Ababa in 2020 from Mekelle, Tigray’s capital, to help her daughter prepare for a school exam. Weeks after her arrival in November that year, a conflict erupted between the federal government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the party that dominates the northern region.

A shutdown in communications for much of the two-year conflict means Kahssay, like millions of other Tigrayans, has not spoken to her family in more than 18 months. As soon as she lands in Mekelle, she said she will head straight to her family home, hoping everyone is still there and safe.

The federal government and TPLF signed a peace agreement last month, which includes the restoration of services to Tigray, and the resumption of flights on Wednesday is the latest in that process.

“When I heard of the news [of the flights], I fell to the ground and cried,” 47-year-old Kahssay said. She is travelling home with her brother, sister and 15-year-old daughter.

“I came here for my daughter’s examination and got stuck here suddenly,” she said, standing next to her luggage bursting with grains and cooking oil.

The conflict has created famine-like conditions for much of Tigray’s population, displaced millions of people across northern Ethiopia and killed thousands.

“I lived here, separated from my husband and child whom I love,” Kahssay said. “I pray the peace will be sustained. When there is peace, there is everything.”

Ethio Telecom also reconnected Mekelle and 27 other urban areas to internet and telephone services on Wednesday, the state broadcaster ETV reported, citing the company’s CEO.

Other travellers on the Ethiopian Airlines flight on Wednesday jogged towards the departures terminal, desperate to get on board. The flight sold out within hours of its announcement, travel agents said.

Another traveller, 65-year-old Nigsti Hailemariam, had planned to be in Addis Ababa for two weeks to help her daughter give birth. She stayed for nearly two years.

“I am very happy that peace is returning and excited that I am finally going home,” she said. “May God keep the peace.”

Source: News Agencies