04 September 2020
Following Human Rights Watch’s report highlighting the dire conditions that Ethiopian migrants have been held in in Saudi Arabia during the pandemic (see our 21 August update on Saudi Arabia on this platform), the Telegraph has revealed that the Ethiopian government has attempted to silence those stuck inside Saudi detention facilities. A leaked document submitted to the newspaper--which bears the stamp of the Ethiopian consulate in Jeddah, and which is dated 24 June 2020--warned detained Ethiopians of “legal repercussions” if they continue to upload images and videos from detention. According to the document, footage and images were causing “distress for families and the greater Ethiopian community.” The Telegraph claims that the Ethiopian government has sought to avoid excessive focus on Saudi Arabia’s detention of its nationals to avoid a diplomatic fall-out with the country, which is an important source of foreign exchange for Ethiopia. The Telegraph also revealed additional details about the inhuman conditions in these facilities (30 August 2020), reporting similar scenes to those unearthed by Human Rights Watch as well as that fact that several detainees had committee suicide. The multiple reports about Saudia Arabia’s treatment of detainees have prompted condemnation from a host of governments. The British government stated that it was “very concerned” by the reports; a spokesman for UN Secretary General, António Guterres, said that the UN was also investigating; and the IOM warned that the unhealthy, overcrowded facilities could become “breeding grounds” for fatal diseases. In response, Saudi authorities reportedly told the Telegraph that the government is “looking into the state of all official government facilities in light of the allegations.”
- Z. Zelalem and W. Brown, “Exclusive: Ethiopia Tried to Silence Its Own Citizens Stuck in Hellish Sauid Detention Centres,” The Telegraph, 3 September 2020, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/global-health/science-and-disease/exclusive-ethiopia-tried-silence-citizens-stuck-hellish-saudi/
- Z. Zelalem and W. Brown, “International Condemnation Rains Down on Saudi Arabia After Telegraph Investigation Into Hellish Detention Centres,” The Telegraph, 1 September 2020, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/global-health/climate-and-people/international-condemnation-rains-saudi-arabia-telegraph-investigation/
- Z. Zelalem and W. Brown, “Investigation: African Migrants ‘Left to Die’ in Saudi Arabia’s Hellish Covid Detention Centres,” The Sunday Telegraph, 30 August 2020, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/global-health/climate-and-people/investigation-african-migrants-left-die-saudi-arabias-hellish/
- Global Detention Project, “Ethiopia Immigration Detention Data Page,” https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/countries/africa/ethiopia
- Global Detention Project, “Saudi Arabia Immigration Detention Data Page,” https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/countries/middle-east/saudi-arabia
20 August 2020
Ethiopia has a history of sheltering refugees and has long maintained an open-door asylum policy. The country hosts an estimated 769,000 refugees and other “people of concern.” Unlike in many other countries in the region, refugees have the right to access health care services in Ethiopia. However, after the onset of the Covid crisis, there have been reports of surging xenophobic sentiment as foreigners have been blamed for spreading the virus.
Refugees in Ethiopia were long forced to remain in designated camps. However, in early 2019, the government adopted a law giving refugees the right to live, work, and access other services outside the camps. Nevertheless, many people continue to reside within camps. In April, the government announced its intention to close Hitsats refugee camp and relocate all 27,000 inhabitants to Adi Harush and Mai Aini refugee camps, a move that UNHCR quickly criticised. Highlighting the need to avoid situations of overcrowding during the pandemic, the refugee agency warned that such a plan would risk exposing thousands to dangerous Covid outbreaks. (The number of cases in the country is already one of the highest in the continent: as of 19 August, it had recorded 32,722 cases and more than 570 deaths. On 9 June, the first case was confirmed within the refugee population.)
Previously, on 8 August, UNHCR reported that it had set up isolation units in all refugee camps to temporarily quarantine any suspected cases. The agency also said that it established 37,000 handwashing stations, trained more than 2,150 health and community outreach workers, and distributed 140,000 face masks.
The Global Detention Project has been unable to confirm many concrete details about Ethiopia’s immigration detention practices. However, there have been occasional reports of authorities arresting and deporting migrants as they pass through the country. These reports indicate that foreigners are detained in the country’s prisons prior to deportation. On 6 May, the Federal Commissioner for Prisons reported that 40,000 prisoners had been released since March (out of a total prison population of 110,000)--although no information is available confirming whether non-nationals in deportation procedures were amongst those released.
- Refugees International, “Covid-19 and the Displaced: Addressing the Threat of the Novel Coronavirus in Humanitarian Emergencies,” 30 March 2020, https://www.refugeesinternational.org/reports/2020/3/29/covid-19-and-the-displaced-addressing-the-threat-of-the-novel-coronavirus-in-humanitarian-emergencies
- C. D’Orsi, “Governments Need to do More for Refugees Affected by Coronavirus: Here’s How,” The Conversation, 15 April 2020, https://theconversation.com/governments-need-to-do-more-for-refugees-affected-by-coronavirus-heres-how-135861
- J. Ashly, “Eritrean Refugees in Ethiopia Resist Camp Closure amid COVID-19 Fears,” The New Humanitarian, 17 August 2020, https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/news-feature/2020/08/17/Ethiopia-Eritrea-refugee-camps-coronavirus
- UNHCR, “Operational Portal - Refugee Situations: Ethiopia,” https://data2.unhcr.org/en/country/eth
- The Economic Times, “Ethiopia Records First Coronavirus Cases in Refugee Camps,” 10 June 2020, https://health.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/industry/ethiopia-records-first-coronavirus-cases-in-refugee-camps/76291703
- Xinhuanet, “Roundup: Measures Taken in All Refugee Camps in Ethiopia to Curb Covid-19 Spread,” 9 August 2020, http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2020-08/09/c_139275796.htm
- N. Bhalla, “Ethiopia Allows Almost 1 Million Refugees to Leave Camps and Work,” Reuters, 17 January 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-ethiopia-refugees-rights/ethiopia-allows-almost-1-million-refugees-to-leave-camps-and-work-idUSKCN1PB2QH
- Global Detention Project, “Immigration Detention in Ethiopia - 2016 Update,” August 2016, https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/countries/africa/ethiopia
- Prison Insider, “Africa: Coronavirus; Prison Fever,” https://www.prison-insider.com/en/articles/afrique-coronavirus-la-fievre-des-prisons#ethiopie-5e81fe9831b0a
Last updated: August 2016
Ethiopia Immigration Detention Profile
Ethiopia is an important refugee host country as well as a transit country for people seeking to make their way to the Gulf States or Europe, particularly from South Central Somalia and Somaliland.
Little is known about the migrant detention practices of Ethiopia. However, there have been occasional reports of authorities arresting and deporting migrants as they pass through the country. Foreigners appear to be detained in the country’s prisons prior to deportation.
The government reportedly allows the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) to visit prisons and consular officials and NGO representatives have met with prisoners. However, conditions in Ethiopian prisons are generally poor. Issues include children being incarcerated alongside adults, extreme overcrowding, limited access to potable water, and unreliable medical care.
In addition to being a transit country for migrants, Ethiopia hosts the largest population of refugees in Africa. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that, as of December 2014, the country was hosting 644,168 refugees. The majority of these refugees are from South Sudan and Somalia. Ethiopia’s Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs, along with the UNHCR, has supported these refugees by providing camps with access to healthcare, education, water, sanitation, and hygiene.
 This summary relies primarily on information provided in the U.S. State Department’s 2014 human rights report on Ethiopia, http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/236570.pdf; and the Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat’s 2015 report, Behind Bars: The Detention of Migrants in and from the East & Horn of Africa, http://www.regionalmms.org.