Tears, prayers and hopes as flights to Ethiopia’s war-torn Tigray resume

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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 region of Tigray.

She travelled to Addis Ababa in 2020 from the Tigray capital Mekelle to help her daughter prepare for a school exam. Weeks after her arrival, in November, 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 over 18 months. As soon as she lands in Mekelle, she will head straight to the family home, hoping everyone is still there and safe, she said.

The two opposing sides 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,” said 47-year-old Kahssay. She was 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 hundreds of thousands of Tigray’s population, killed thousands and displaced millions across northern Ethiopia.

“I lived here, separated from my husband and child whom I love,” said Kahssay. “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.

Repairs to more than half of the 1 800 km fibre-optic cable network in war-affected areas have been completed, while almost the whole region, including Mekelle, has been reconnected to the national electrical grid, the government said in a statement.

Other travellers on the Ethiopian Airlines flight on Wednesday anxiously 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, who arrived wrapped in a traditional white cloth, had planned to be in Addis Ababa for just two weeks to help her pregnant 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.”