Amnesty International (AI) reported that at least three people died in detention centres housing thousands of Ethiopian migrants in Saudi Arabia (AI 02.10.2020). The rights group said that migrants were facing “unimaginable cruelty,” including being chained together in pairs, and using their cell floors as toilets. AI urged Saudi authorities to improve conditions in the centres. The migrants from Ethiopia and other countries had been working in northern Yemen but were forced out by Houthi rebels. According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), some 2,000 Ethiopians remain stranded on the Yemeni side of the border, without food, water or healthcare.
Many Ethiopian migrants go to Saudi Arabia to work, making the kingdom a key source of foreign remittances for Ethiopia. The kingdom has been cracking down on irregular migrants and as of 2017, there were up to 500,000 irregular migrants from Ethiopia in Saudi Arabia, according to the IOM. Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, at least 10,000 Ethiopians on average were being deported each month. However, Ethiopian officials requested a moratorium because of the pandemic. BBC News reported that in recent months, Ethiopia has struggled to create sufficient space in quarantine to welcome their nationals back and make sure they are not bringing the virus with them.
Amnesty International interviewed 12 detained Ethiopian migrants regarding conditions in the al-Dayer detention centre, Jizan central prison, and prisons in Jeddah and Mecca. Conditions are especially dire in al-Dayer and Jizan, where detainees report sharing cells with 350 people. Two migrants told Amnesty that they had personally seen the dead bodies of three men from Ethiopia, Yemen, and Somalia, in al-Dayer. The report did however mention that “all those interviewed said they knew of people who had died in detention, and four people said they had seen bodies themselves.”
Amnesty International urged the Ethiopian government to urgently facilitate the voluntary repatriation of its nationals, while asking the Saudi authorities to improve detention conditions in the meantime. Ethiopia has planned to repatriate 2,000 detained migrants by mid-October, Tsion Teklu, a state minister at Ethiopia’s foreign ministry, told AFP last month. The minister said that the total number of Ethiopian migrants in Saudi Arabian detention facilities was 16,000 this year. In September, three migrants told AFP that visiting Ethiopian diplomats had warned them to stop speaking about detention conditions.
- BBC News, “Deaths at Saudi Arabia Detention Centre for Ethiopians – Amnesty,” BBC News, 2 October 2020, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-54385365
- Global Detention Project, Immigration Detention in Saudi Arabia, January 2016, https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/countries/middle-east/saudi-arabia#country-report
- Ethiopian Migrants Expelled by Yemeni Rebels Who Forced Them to the Saudi Arabian Border, (AFP, “Deaths at Saudi Arabia Detention Centre for Ethiopians – Amnesty,” BBC News, 3 October 2020, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-54385365)