Terror in Tigray

The Ethiopian refugee crisis

Civil war has displaced many in Ethiopia's Tigray region and there is no end in sight to their misery. VOA's Heather Murdock travels to the largely cut-off conflict zone, as well as refugee camps in neighboring Sudan, to bring the story of a complex political situation and the growing humanitarian disaster.

Tigray Conflict Timeline

August 20, 2012

Death of PM Meles Zenawi

After more than 20 years leading the country, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi dies unexpectedly. His death signals the end of an era when ethnic Tigrayan elites held considerable power in government, military and business. Learn more


April 2, 2018

Abiy Ahmed Becomes PM

Abiy Ahmed, an ethnic Oromo, becomes prime minister following more than five years of rule by technocratic leader Hailemariam Desalegn. Abiy negotiates a peace deal with neighboring Eritrea and releases political prisoners. In 2019, he receives the Nobel Peace Prize. Later that year, he dissolves the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, or the EPRDF, and founds the Prosperity Party. Learn more


September 9, 2020

Tigray Region Elections

The Tigray region holds elections in defiance of Abiy and the federal government, which had canceled elections, citing the COVID-19 pandemic. Abiy calls the Tigray elections “illegal.” Learn more


November 4, 2020

Military Base Attack

The central government accuses forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) of attacking federal military bases in northern Ethiopia, seizing equipment and capturing soldiers. In subsequent days, Ethiopian federal forces, aided by forces from the Amhara region and neighboring Eritrea, begin a campaign to retake towns in Tigray occupied by the TPLF. Learn more


November 9, 2020

Ethnic Violence

Ethnic violence in the town of Mai-Kadra causes tens of thousands of people, mostly Tigrayans, to flee the country. Amhara and Tigrayans say they are the victims of the attacks. Residents of Humera also say artillery fired from Eritrea targeted the town, according to Human Rights Watch. Learn more


November 14, 2020

TPLF Launches Rocket

The conflict spreads further when the TPLF launch rocket attacks against Eritrea. TPLF leaders accuse Eritrea of involvement in the conflict and say it was a “legitimate target” because Asmara International Airport and other locations in Eritrea were being used to support Ethiopian federal forces. Learn more


November 28, 2020

End of Abiy’s ‘Law Enforcement Operation’

Abiy announces an end to what he calls a “law enforcement operation” after federal forces retake the city of Mekelle, the Tigray regional capital. Learn more


November 28 and 29, 2020

‘Massacre’ in Axum

Eritrean soldiers are accused of committing a massacre in the Tigrayan town of Axum. A report by Amnesty International says the forces went door to door arresting and executing hundreds of unarmed men and boys. The forces are also accused of looting and indiscriminate shelling. Learn more


March 23, 2021

Abiy Acknowledges Eritrean Presence

After months of denials, Abiy confirms and acknowledges the presence of Eritrean troops in the Tigray region. Learn more

June 11, 2021

Famine and Food Insecurity

The United Nations reports that 350,000 people in Tigray are suffering from famine, with most of the region’s 5.5 million people at risk of food insecurity. Aid groups say they are unable to reach those in need due to governmental restrictions. Learn more

June 28, 2021

Government Cease-fire

The federal government declares a unilateral cease-fire and withdraws its forces from Mekelle. Learn more

June 29, 2021

Tigray Forces Retake Mekelle

Tigrayan forces retake Mekelle, entering the city to cheering crowds. Thousands of Ethiopian prisoners of war are paraded through the streets. Learn more

October-November, 2021

Government Airstrikes

Ethiopian jets conduct airstrikes on targets in Mekelle and surrounding areas in the Tigray region and beyond. The government says it used precise strikes to hit military targets, including training camps. Tigrayan forces and residents say the attacks killed civilians. Learn more

October 31, 2021

Facebook Removes Abiy’s Comments

In a speech posted on social media, Abiy says the advance of Tigrayan forces was “pushing the country to its demise.” He calls on citizens to take up arms to defend the country and bury “the terrorist TPLF.” Facebook later removes the speech, saying it violated community standards and incited violence. Learn more

November 2, 2021

State of Emergency

Ethiopia declares a six-month state of emergency, as Tigrayan forces say they are advancing toward the capital city, Addis Ababa. Learn more



Jacquelyn De Phillips
Supervising producer / video editor
Elizabeth Arrott
Supervising editor
Yan Boechat
Director of photography

Animation and graphics

Brian Williamson
Chin Soo Park
Motion graphics
Yass Monem
Digital visual news editor


Gary Butterworth
Consulting producer
Luis Ramirez
Consulting producer
John Lippman
Executive producer


Yassir Haron
Field producer
Mohaned Bilal
Second camera


Elias Hailemariam
Field producer


Yared Abraha
Philimon Desta
Haftom Kidu
Romha Tesfaye
Alayt Temesgen


Kbrom Zemu
Wrote and performed
“Shinha Wuley”
Composed and performed music
Alexander Biruk
Additional music

Special Thanks To

Brian Allen
Deepak Dobhal
Steven Ferri
Amy Katz
Yolanda Lopez
Bill Rogers
Salem Solomon
Leslie Washington