Unarmed youth patrols saved many women during Mekelle occupation


March 2021 photo of Mekelle bus station. Patrols of Ethiopian and Eritrean forces during the Mekelle occupation often took the opportunity to loot property and violate women on the street. Many were saved by the brave actions of unarmed Tigrayan youth group members who sometimes gave up their lives to protect the women. Source Irish Times

During the occupation of the capital of Tigray, Mekelle, by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces between November 2020 and July 2021 unsung heroes were the daily and nightly volunteer unarmed foot patrols coordinated by youth groups. Although armed fighters were outside the city in surrounding mountains these youth groups played a key role in intelligence gathering, spreading and informing news to the kebeles (neighborhoods), and finally at great personal risk acting as safety escorts for women traveling in the streets.

A few days after the initial military occupation by regular military forces we saw a change in the composition of the enemy soldiers. A greater number of Eritreans and Amhara appeared on the streets. Everyday they would be “patrolling the street” in squad size groups carrying out looting of local businesses and even worse whisking away  women off the street to terrible fates including sexual violence.

Local neighborhood groups of Mekelle residents organized unarmed foot patrols usually of just one person to function during daylight hours and also covertly at night when there was a curfew. Many times these guardians saved ladies walking from work, church, visiting relatives, or obtaining household needs by warning them of approaching enemy patrols or distracting the patrols while the women got away or found a hiding place.

From November 2020 through the beginning of January 2021 I know of at least seven young men who were shot by occupying forces. Those that were lucky enough to be brought to hospital by relatives or neighbors were often taken out of the hospital by enemy forces in the morning and never seen again.  An evil fate for the remains of those killed at scene copied a practice used by the Derg regime. I first learned about this from a friend, Rev. Douglas, whose mission was near the Desta Hotel near the Business School Campus. I went there and saw the decaying body lying on side of the busy street. Bodies would be ordered to lay where they died on the street for days. You could see the locations from a long distance because within a few hours scavenging birds would circle over them.