Thousands of Ethiopian migrants in Saudi prisons are living in horrifying conditions, locked up in overcrowded and dirty cells, starving, mistreated and beaten, and in need of medical attention. Some of them are in mortal danger. One of our Observers affirmed that 10 Ethiopians had recently died in these conditions.
On August 23, 2021, the Ethiopian consulate in Saudi Arabia published a list of 10 Ethiopian nationals who had died, including a child, in the al-Shumaisi detention centre in Jeddah. When the FRANCE 24 Observers team contacted the consulate, they did not want to comment on the reasons behind these deaths.
At the beginning of June, Saudi authorities began to arrest Ethiopian migrants in large numbers, even those who were documented and legal, arresting them on the street and in cafés and conducting house raids.
After a bilateral agreement with Saudi Arabia, the Ethiopian authorities have been organising regular repatriation flights for Ethiopian nationals in the country. On July 7, 2021, there were 35 such flights from Addis Ababa. In total, 42,000 Ethiopians were repatriated, according to the International Organisation for Migration, while 60,000 others remain in the Kingdom amid unhuman detention conditions.
UN Expresses Concern over the Migrants’ Detention Conditions
In this regard, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights of migrants sent a letter to the Saudi government “concerning the situation of migrants who are stranded in overcrowded detention centres for prolonged and indefinite periods. These migrants have been held in unsanitary and dehumanizing conditions.”
ADES local newspaper revealed that not only men are locked in the Saudi detention centres. The detention cells are also packed with young mothers and children, affirming that up to 200 persons are held in the same room.
An Ethiopian human rights activist who is in regular contact with Ethiopians who are detained in Saudi prisons, where illnesses such as diarrhoea and infections caused by the unhygienic conditions are common, affirmed that legal migrants are also locked up in the detention centres without any legal basis.
The Oromo Legacy Leadership & Advocacy Association, a non-profit, non-partisan, community-based organisation that seeks to serve the socio-cultural needs of the Oromo people in Ethiopia and around the world, affirmed that the living conditions of Ethiopian migrants in detention centres have got considerably worse without adequate access to food, water, sanitation, health care, accommodation and clothes.
Ethiopians travel to Saudi Arabia for economic reasons and to flee serious human rights abuses back home, in light of the worsening human rights and security situation in the African country.
Over the last decade, tens of thousands of young Ethiopians have made their way to the Gulf state, often aided by Saudi recruitment agents and people traffickers, in a bid to escape poverty back home.
They have been trapped partly as a result of the pandemic but also by the ‘Saudization’ of the kingdom’s workforce, a policy introduced by Muhamad Bin Salman, the Crown Prince who took power three years ago.
Serious Violations Documented
The testimonies gathered by The Sunday Telegraph directly from migrants on encrypted channels about the conditions they now find themselves in are harrowing.
Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reported several cases of torture of Ethiopian detainees, highlighting two people who had received electric shocks after they complained about conditions.
Despite the EU Parliament’s vote condemning Saudi Arabia over treatment of Ethiopian migrants, the migrants’ plight continued to worsen in the Kingdom’s detention centres.
We firmly call on the international community to pressure Saudi Arabia to stop the human rights violations and abuse of thousands of Ethiopian migrants and to work for their immediate release.