“We are beaten every day and our only crime was to seek a better life in a foreign country.”
New details emerge of the gruesome detention conditions facing thousands of migrants from Ethiopia – men, women and children – some of whom were driven across the border from Yemen to Saudi Arabia this year in amid gunfire over coronavirus fears.
A new report released by Amnesty International on Friday describes widespread abuse, including beatings and electrocutions, in Saudi detention centers. Detainees described being chained in pairs and forced to use cell floors as toilets.
“Surrounded by death and disease, the situation is so dire that at least two people have attempted suicide,” says Marie Forestier, researcher at Amnesty, in the report.
“Pregnant women, babies and young children are held in these same appalling conditions, and three detainees said they knew of deceased children.”
The abuses highlight one of the world’s most popular and dangerous migrant routes. The Saudi government did not immediately comment.
Thousands of Ethiopians come to Saudi Arabia every year after traveling across the Red Sea or Gulf of Aden from Somalia or Djibouti and through conflict-torn Yemen, in search of a better life.
Amnesty International said thousands of Ethiopian migrants were working in northern Yemen, earning money to pay for their passage to Saudi Arabia.
“When the COVID-19 pandemic intensified, Houthi authorities began ordering migrant workers to go to the border, where they were allegedly caught in the crossfire between Saudi and Houthi forces,” the new report says. .
The International Organization for Migration says some 2,000 Ethiopians are stranded on the Yemeni side of the border without food, water or health care.
Today, migrants say they are detained in life-threatening conditions.
“I would not have left my country if I had known that this hellish condition would be waiting for me,” another migrant detained at the AP. “I have had suicidal thoughts in the past. It’s just unbearable, especially on these very hot days, as we don’t have an air conditioner. And they beat us with electric cords every time we complain. And they took all our money and our cell phones.
He said he was detained nine months ago because his Saudi Arabian residence permit had expired. “The only thing I want now is to go back to Ethiopia, but it’s just a dream right now,” he said. The detainees spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear for their safety.
The COVID-19 pandemic made their repatriation difficult, with Ethiopian authorities saying they lacked the quarantine capacity to handle the return of so many at once.
Ethiopia’s Minister of State at the Foreign Ministry, Tsion Teklu, told the PA that up to 16,000 Ethiopians are believed to be held in Saudi prisons. She said some 4,000 people had been repatriated since April.
“We are currently working to repatriate 2,000 more migrants by bringing in around 300 each week,” she said, adding that Ethiopia had repatriated some 400,000 in recent years. “The problem is compounded by the fact that some of our returnee citizens are retired.”
“While quarantine spaces remain a significant obstacle, other governments and donors must help Ethiopia increase the number of places so that migrants can leave these hellish conditions as soon as possible,” said Forestier. “Nothing, not even a pandemic, can justify the arbitrary detention and continued abuse of thousands of people.”