Ethiopia has lifted a five-month suspension of the Norwegian Refugee Council’s aid work after it cleared the organisation of allegations of spreading “misinformation”.
The government ordered the NRC, along with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), to stop work for three months in July, including operations in the Tigray conflict zone. Both organisations were ordered to stop their humanitarian work in July but while MSF’s suspension was lifted in October, the NRC’s was extended.
“It is heart-breaking that we were unable to reach our target of serving more than half a million in need across Ethiopia in 2021,” Jan Egeland, NRC secretary general, said in a statement.
“Now that we have to restart, it will take time to again reach as many people as we did before the suspension. We have lost many of our staff. We urgently need permits for our international staff to return, and we need to be able to pay our suppliers.”
NRC said it was given a “strict warning” from the government over future advocacy on humanitarian needs.
NRC had been providing food, clean water, shelter, education and legal help to 25,000 people when it was ordered to suspend its operations.
At the time, the UN called the bans “dangerous” and said Ethiopia needed evidence to back up its claims that the aid groups were spreading misinformation.
MSF was banned in the Tigray, Gambella, Amhara and Somali regions. Along with spreading misinformation, the organisation was accused of bringing in satellite communication equipment without authorisation and not getting the correct permits for employees.
In September the organisation said the suspension had forced it to discharge patients from clinics at short notice, and meant it could not help people affected by the Tigray conflict, refugees from South Sudan and people suffering from neglected tropical diseases.
MSF said that while the three-month suspension had been lifted in late October, it had been difficult to restart operations.
“Although we are permitted to resume our work, it has not been possible to restart those medical programmes, mainly due to the current security situation and administrative obstacles,” the spokesperson said.
In November, MSF was forced to suspend work in some parts of the country for safety reasons.
“Despite the significant scale of humanitarian needs faced by the Ethiopian people in many regions of the country, MSF considers it difficult to restart and expand its response to address those needs.”
MSF said it was talking with the government and other parties to find ways to continue providing medical services.