June 24, 2021

Ethiopian refugees accuse government in Addis Ababa of ‘forgetting’ their plight following Saudi jail crackdown

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Ethiopian migrants who have been detained in “unbearable” conditions in Saudi Arabia have accused the government in Addis Ababa.

Avatar: Nigist Berta
By Nigist Berta

Nigist is a senior reporter and content creator at Addis Zeybe, who is experienced in journalism and who explores her passion for storytelling.

Ethiopian refugees accuse government in Addis Ababa of ‘forgetting’ their plight following Saudi jail crackdown

Ethiopian migrants who have been detained in “unbearable” conditions in Saudi Arabia have accused the government in Addis Ababa of cruelly “forgetting” their plight.

Thousands take the annual hazardous route of crossing the Red Sea or Gulf Aden from Somalia, Djibouti, and conflict-torn Yemen into the Saudi kingdom. 

Those who manage to get there earn far more than what they would do in Ethiopia. But last month, Saudi security forces stepped up raids and door-to-door searches across the country, targeting not only undocumented migrants but also legitimate residents as well. 

Chief among them are Ethiopians. Even though Saudi Arabia still represents opportunity, for many thousands it is now a prison. Some have said they have experienced suicidal thoughts after being detained, beaten, and having what little money they have taken off them.

The notorious Al Shumaisi detention center near Mecca has been detaining Ethiopian refugees year after year but more have swelled the prison over the last few months. “We are beaten every day and our only crime was seeking a better life in a foreign land,” Ethiopian detainees told Addis Zeybe.

One detained Ethiopian migrant spoke via a smuggled phone in the prison. “Many numbers of countrymen are imprisoned with me, and no one knows when Ethiopia’s government might bring us home,” he said. 

“We are kept in very inhumane conditions. We sleep in a dusty, dirty, and humid place where it is difficult to breathe. We really want to go back home but no one is assisting us. 

“Ethiopia's government officials and our people seem to have forgotten us.” 

Another detained migrant said he was being held in life-threatening conditions. “I wouldn’t have left my country had I known this hellish place would await me,” he said. 

“I even have some suicidal thoughts sometimes. It is just unbearable, especially during those very hot days, since we don’t have air conditioning And they beat us whenever we complain. And they have taken all our money and cell phones.”

The detained migrants said that the only thing they want now is to return to Ethiopia, in a condition of anonymity out of fear for their safety. Some have previously been able to fly back but the cost has been prohibitive and Saudi Arabia is not now complying with this arrangement. 

Girma Moges, a young man from Saudi Arabia, told Addis Zeybe that he had previously been detained at Al Shumaisi detention center. He shared his story, saying: “My name is Girma. I have lived in Saudi Arabia for years. I have lived and was also imprisoned in the same prison. 

“When I was arrested it was not by committing a crime, but because I was not legal. I was living without a permit. Shouldn’t we have gone back to our country 15 to 20 days after being detained as an unlicensed person? 

“Saudi Arabia's pressure on Ethiopia is enormous and oppressive. The suffering of Ethiopian citizens in Shumaisi Prison is devastating. It is not even a place for shouting. I and some guys have escaped but still, we are living in fear. ” 

He added: "For those who are currently in prison having a work permit, justice should be given, and for those without a license, we will ask for mercy. If this mercy is said to not be possible, we ask to end our imprisonment in our own country.”

Addis Zeybe also spoke to residents of Addis Ababa about their idea on this issue, “If the Ethiopian government and the embassy had expressed concern about their citizens, Ethiopians would not have been harmed,”  said Beza Kibret, a resident of Addis Ababa.

FDRE Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Ambassador Dina Mufti told Addis Zeybe: “The ministry is closely monitoring delegate missions which are investigating these claims. During the search, law enforcement officials were asked to report any injuries or injuries to law enforcement officials at the Jeddah Consulate and the Riyadh Embassy. We are in talks with Saudi officials who are responsible for Jeddah prisons."

Ethiopia’s state minister at the foreign ministry, Tsion Teklu, added: “We are now working to repatriate every migrant by bringing them back starting from the coming week. The problem is compounded with the fact that some of our citizens being repatriated are trafficked but we will come to an end solution properly.”