Skip to content

Locked in overcrowded and unsanitary cells, mistreated and beaten, lacking food and medical care: thousands of Ethiopian migrants held in Saudi prisons live in appalling conditions, to the point that their lives are threatened. Our Observer alerted us to the recent deaths of ten of her compatriots.

On August 23, the Ethiopian consulate in Saudi Arabia released a list of ten Ethiopian nationals who died, including a child, in Al-Shumaisi detention center in Jeddah. Contacted by the editorial staff of France 24 Observers, the consulate declined to comment on the reasons for these deaths.

This macabre discovery did not surprise our Observer Arafat Jibril Bakrii, Ethiopian human rights activist, who is in regular contact with Ethiopians held in Saudi prisons, where diseases due to poor hygiene, such as diarrhea and infections. skin, are common.

In recent weeks, she has received several videos showing in particular a man with an emaciated face, detainees forced to sleep on the floor near toilets overflowing with excrement, where again a man with his back marked with traces of lashes.

Screenshot of a video shot in August 2021 showing Ethiopian migrants crammed into the toilets of a detention center in Jazan, Saudi Arabia. © Facebook
Screenshot of a video shot in August 2021 showing Ethiopian migrants crammed into unsanitary toilets at a detention center in Jazan, Saudi Arabia. © Internet

At the beginning of June, the Saudi authorities launched a vast operation to arrest Ethiopian migrants, even those in a regular situation, not hesitating to arrest them in the streets, in cafes, and to storm their homes.

After a bilateral agreement with Saudi Arabia, the Ethiopian authorities regularly organize repatriation flights for their nationals. As of July 7, 2021, 35 flights to Addis Ababa had been completed. A total of 40,000 Ethiopians had been repatriated according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

“My only fault is that I don’t have a residence permit”

Contacted by the Observers editorial staff, Muhammad (pseudonym) is being held in a detention center near Riyadh.

We are crammed with more than 350 people in a room. Some are forced to sleep in the toilet amidst the foul odors, due to lack of space. It is very hot, and we receive very little food, a baguette a day, served in the evening. A lot of people get sick from it, they got pimples, diarrhea, fever.

I can’t even afford a razor to shave my beard and hair. They just give us a small bottle of water for the whole day. We are often forced to drink the water from the toilets.

Sometimes the jailers beat us, for example when they find out that someone has a cell phone. Here is hell, you can die.

I came here to work and help my family. But four months after my arrival, I was arrested and have been languishing ever since in this prison, even though I have committed no crime. My only mistake is that I don’t have a residence permit.

The only thing we ask is to be taken back to our country as quickly as possible, to get out of this nightmare.

I would like imams and priests to talk about us in mosques and churches in Ethiopia, Ethiopian artists and celebrities to stand up and speak out about the situation we live in, in the media, everywhere.

On August 23, families of detainees held a rally in front of the Saudi Arabian embassy in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, urging the Saudi authorities to stop the mistreatment of their loved ones. According to Ethiopian state television, around 80,000 Ethiopians are currently still in detention in the kingdom.

Ethiopians demonstrate in front of the Saudi Arabian embassy on August 23, 2021, to denounce the abuses suffered by their compatriots in Saudi detention centers. © Facebook

Ethiopian Foreign Ministry spokesman Din Mufti said on July 2 that his country viewed the wave of expulsions as part of pressure from Arab League countries, including Saudi Arabia, to deter Ethiopia to continue filling the Grand Renaissance Dam (Gerd).

Built by Ethiopia upstream of the Nile, this dam has been the subject of tensions since 2011 with Egypt and Sudan, which fear for their water resources.

In recent months, the conditions of detention of Ethiopian migrants have deteriorated significantly, explains Arafat Jibril Bakrii, president of the organization for the defense of the rights of the Oromos (Ethiopian ethnic group).

“A woman told me that she saw a fellow inmate die before her eyes”

A few months ago, people who contacted me told me that they received three meals a day and that they had access to a doctor when they were sick.

But now they only get a piece of bread, and the water is also dispensed by dropper. This deterioration in their living conditions is explained by the increasing number of arrests and detentions.

It was while visiting Al-Shumaisi detention center in Jeddah that the consulate discovered that ten Ethiopians, including a six-year-old child, had died. This is just the tip of the iceberg. The Ethiopian consulate does not have access to all Saudi prisons, but only to detention centers, that of Riyadh and Jeddah.

Often, before being taken to a detention center, arrested Ethiopians are placed in preventive prisons. And no one knows how many Ethiopians die in these prisons. I only have testimonials that reach me from time to time.

A month ago, a woman in a Jeddah women’s prison told me that a fellow inmate had died in front of her eyes. She was very weak, and no one knew what she was suffering from.

I spoke with a man who was beaten by the guards because they had found a cell phone on him. They took him out into the yard, beat him with a whip and threw water on him, then took him back to his cell.

Photo transmitted by a detainee in Saudi Arabia. On his back, marks of swifts. August 2021. © France 24

This photo was sent to me from the Al-Shumaisi detention center in Riyadh. The person explained to me that 500 men were locked in this room. Inmates from the same center sent me a photo of a terribly thin fellow inmate. They are worried about his health, as he was not taken to the infirmary or hospital.

Dozens of Ethiopian migrants crammed into a room at Al-Shumaisi detention center in Riyadh. August 2021. © Internet

In an investigation published in October 2020, Amnesty International previously reported on several cases of torture of Ethiopian detainees, including two detainees who received electric shocks after complaining about their conditions of detention. The NGO called on the Saudi authorities to “immediately improve conditions of detention, put an end to torture and ill-treatment, and ensure adequate access to food, water, sanitation, medical care. health, housing and clothing ”.