Ethiopian migrants to Saudi Arabia are suffering “indescribable hardships and abuses,” according to the latest report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), which described the “exploitation and torture” they were subjected to in Yemen, before being held captive in Saudi Arabia under “abusive” conditions.
The report – which was released on Thursday – drew on testimonies given by Ethiopian migrants who were expelled from Saudi Arabia. It documented the vulnerability of these people to exploitation, violence and human trafficking, from the beginning of their journey across the Red Sea then through the Gulf of Aden to reach Saudi Arabia.
The human rights organisation pointed out that the Ethiopian, Yemeni and Saudi authorities “have taken no measures to reduce the violence migrants are subjected to […] or to monitor the violations their security forces are committing”. The report also indicated that the authorities did not help thousands of Ethiopians expelled from Saudi Arabia since 2017 to return.
“Ethiopians taking the dangerous boat trip across the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden are at the risk of exploitation and torture in Yemen by a network of human trafficking groups,” said Human Rights Watch.
“Many Ethiopians hoping to have a better life in Saudi Arabia face enormous risks during their journey, including drowning in the sea, torture, and all kinds of abuses,” said Felix Horn, a researcher at HRW specialising in African affairs.
“Saudi Arabia forcibly returned hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians to [the capital] Addis Ababa, without taking the necessary procedures. They acquired nothing but debt and trauma during their journey,” Horn added.
Many Ethiopians have long sought to go to Saudi Arabia in search of work, in a bid to escape poverty at home. In order to reach Saudi Arabia, they must cross the sea by boats loaded with migrants at high risk of sinking. They receive no food or water during the 24-hour journey.
One survivor told HRW that the smugglers threw more than 20 of them into the sea to lighten the boat’s load. “The boat was very dangerous and waves [were] overflowing. It was overcrowded and on the verge of sinking, but the smugglers caught some people, about 25, and threw them into the sea,” the witness said.
As soon as they arrive in Yemen, migrants risk becoming victims of “smuggling and human trafficking networks,” some of which are Ethiopian-run, “abusing or threatening to use violence to extort ransom from relatives or hostage contacts,” the report indicated.
As they move across the border to Saudi Arabia, Saudi border guards do not hesitate to shoot at migrants, according to the testimonies, which describe many being killed or injured.
“There were bodies rotting on the border, decomposing. It’s like a grave,” a 26-year-old Ethiopian immigrant told the organisation.
According to figures released by the International Organisation for Immigration, there were around 500,000 Ethiopians in Saudi Arabia when Riyadh launched a campaign against illegal immigration in 2017.
According to the group, Saudi authorities have since deported about 260,000 Ethiopians, an average of 10,000 per month between May 2017 and March 2019. The organisation pointed out that deportations are still ongoing.
Meanwhile, Ethiopia continues to receive assistance from the international community to handle migrants deported from Europe. However, those deported from Saudi Arabia received no support or assistance.
The Ethiopian Foreign Ministry refused to comment on the contents of HRW’s report in response to an Agence France Presse (AFP) inquiry.