The Ethiopian government has been detaining and forcibly disappearing thousands of Tigrayans who were repatriated back to the country from Saudi Arabia, according to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).
After tens of thousands of Tigrayans were deported from the Gulf Arab Kingdom between December 2020 and September 2021 under an agreement with Ethiopia, many of them were reportedly detained upon their arrival in the capital, Addis Ababa, and elsewhere in the country.
Others were identified and taken at roadside checkpoints and prevented from returning to their home province of Tigray in the north of Ethiopia.
The captured Tigrayans were then kept at detention facilities and migrant centres, from where – according to two deportees who spoke to HRW – they were transported to coffee farms by bus and forced to do unpaid work in harsh conditions, with little food.
Furthermore, they were prevented from contacting their families, who had no knowledge of their situation or whereabouts. The HRW report stated that the government's "detention of thousands of Tigrayan deportees from Saudi Arabia without informing their families of their arrest or whereabouts amounts to enforced disappearance, which also violates international law."
Prior to their deportations, the deportees told the rights group that workers from Ethiopian in Saudi Arabia had been held between six months and six years in a variety of detention centres throughout the Kingdom, where they were abused, tortured, and deprived of adequate food and provisions.
The conflict between Ethiopian government forces and Tigrayan rebels under the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) erupted in November 2020, after Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, ordered a military offensive against the local forces.
After the Tigrayan rebels advanced throughout the country and reportedly almost took Addis Ababa, they withdrew back to the northern region in a step towards a possible ceasefire.
The possibility of a political solution has not stopped the government from cracking down on forms of dissent or any potential rebel elements, however, with the forced disappearances of the Tigrayans deported from Saudi Arabia being due to suspicions that they could be part of the TPLF.
In November 2021, the Ethiopian government declared a six-month state of emergency. In an effort to resolve the conflict, the United States's Horn of Africa envoy, Jeffrey Feltman, is set to visit the country tomorrow to meet with senior government officials for peace talks.