Ethiopia’s government has ordered the expulsion of seven senior United Nations officials from the country for “meddling” in its internal affairs.
The move on Thursday came as humanitarian workers have been sounding the alarm about limited access to the embattled Tigray region, which has been racked by conflict for nearly 11 months.
The seven officials, who include individuals from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), have been declared “persona non grata” and given 72 hours to leave the country, a statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Thursday.
Grant Leaity, deputy humanitarian coordinator for OCHA, and Adele Khodr, UNICEF representative in Ethiopia, were among those expelled. OCHA’s Kwesi Sansculotte, Saeed Moahmoud Hersi, Ghada Eltahir Midawi and Marcy Vigoda were also ordered to leave, along with Sonny Onyegbula, of the UN Office of the high commissioner for human rights.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was “shocked” by the expulsion, the UN spokesperson Stephanie Tremblay told a news briefing.
“We are now engaging with the government of Ethiopia in the expectation that the concerned UN will be allowed to continue their important work,” Tremblay said.
Al Jazeera’s diplomatic correspondent James Bays, reporting from the UN headquarters in New York, said the Ethiopian government’s move had caused “very deep concern” at the UN.
He noted that Guterres had pursued “a very quiet, patient diplomacy … not saying too much, at least initially in public, not condemning it too much, because he thought he could nudge [Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed] in the right direction.”
“[But] that strategy has clearly not worked,” Bays said.
Separately, the US said it will impose sanctions related to Ethiopia’s “absent significant progress,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki explained.
In a statement Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US “strongly” condemned the decision and called for its “immediate reversal” noting that the UN was critical to humanitarian relief efforts amid the growing risk of famine.
“The expulsion is counterproductive to international efforts to keep civilians safe, and deliver lifesaving humanitarian assistance to the millions in dire need,” Blinken said.