According to a report released by Amnesty International on Friday, at least three people have died in detention centres in Saudi Arabia where thousands of Ethiopian immigrants are being held in “unimaginably cruel” conditions.
The non-governmental organisation called on Riyadh to release the migrants and facilitate their return to their home country in coordination with Ethiopian authorities.
“Thousands of Ethiopian migrants who left their homes in search of a better life have faced, instead, unimaginable cruelty everywhere,” explained Marie Forrester, researcher and consultant on refugee and migrant rights at Amnesty International.
Forrester also urged the Saudi authorities to: “Release all arbitrarily detained migrants immediately, and work on improving their detention conditions before more lives are lost.”
According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), more than 500,000 Ethiopians were residing in Saudi Arabia before the launch of a security campaign against irregular migrants in 2017.
The Saudi authorities have been expelling 10,000 Ethiopians per month ever since, until Ethiopia this year requested the suspension of deportations amid the spread of the coronavirus.
The IOM documented the presence of nearly half a million Ethiopians in Saudi Arabia, before the kingdom authorities decided to launch a campaign against illegal immigrants in 2017.
In August, The Telegraph published interviews with immigrants in Saudi Arabia, accompanied by photos and videos showing detention centres with poor sanitary conditions.
In its report, Amnesty International condemned the migrants’ exposure to: “Harsh treatment by the Saudi authorities, as the detainees were handcuffed in pairs and forced to use the floors of their cells as toilets, in addition to being kept for 24 hours a day in unbearably overcrowded cells.”
According to the report, two of the detainees confirmed that they saw the bodies of three victims, an Ethiopian, a Yemeni and a Somali, in Al-Dayer detention facility in Jizan governorate. All those interviewed by the organisation said that they were aware of the deaths that occurred.
16,000 Ethiopians have been kept in these detention centres this year, but their numbers have decreased, according to Ethiopian authorities.
Ethiopia had planned to evacuate 2,000 detained migrants by mid-October, but Addis Ababa is careful not to upset Saudi Arabia, which is a major investor in Ethiopia.
An Ethiopian migrant told Agence France-Presse (AFP) last month, using a mobile phone that had been smuggled into the detention centre, about the inhuman living conditions the detainees endure in overcrowded cells, living with contagious diseases and receiving small portions of food, prompting many to commit suicide.
Three migrants informed AFP that Ethiopian diplomats visited them and instructed them to stop complaining about their detention conditions.