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Saudi Arabia deports hundreds of Ethiopians after months-long detention, torture

In this file picture, Ethiopian women wait in a line at custom area as they arrive at Addis Ababa Bole International Airport in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, after they were deported from Saudi Arabia. (Photo by AP)

Saudi Arabian authorities have deported hundreds of Ethiopian migrant workers after keeping them for months in detention centers across the oil-rich kingdom under conditions so degrading that they amount to ill-treatment.

According to a report published by the Arabic-language New al-Khalij news website, about 900 people, including many mothers with children, arrived at Addis Ababa Bole International Airport earlier this week.

Most of the women were clad in abaya dresses, and some covered their faces with the niqab. Many of them carried their children either on their backs or in their hands, while they had their few belongings stacked in plastic bags, and waited in line as they got off the plane.

“The returnees were assisted ... registered and, among other things, provided with food, temporary accommodation, medical assistance and counseling services,” the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said in a statement.

The Ethiopian Foreign Ministry announced it will return about 100,000 of its citizens from Saudi Arabia within the next seven to eleven months, under an agreement recently concluded between the two countries.

A 28-year-old woman said, “We returned to our blessed country after six months in prison... but many of our brothers are still suffering, especially in men's prisons.”

“We cried every day. They gave us bread and a pot of cooked rice for 300 people. Sometimes they put up to 400 people in the same room and we couldn't see the sunlight,” Jamila Shafi told AFP news agency upon her arrival.

For years, human rights organizations have denounced the conditions of detention of Ethiopian immigrants in Saudi Arabia.

Ethiopians travel to Saudi Arabia for economic reasons and to flee serious human rights abuses back home. 

In August 2020, Human Rights Watch was the first rights group to report on the ill-treatment of Ethiopian migrant detainees in Saudi Arabia.

A few months later, in a series of phone calls with the New York-based group, migrants described their experiences of being held in unsanitary rooms with “up to 350 other migrants for months on end.”

Moreover, thousands of ethnic Tigrayans have been detained in Ethiopia after being deported from Saudi Arabia, suffering brutality from guards and atrocious conditions in both nations.

About 31.5% of the people returning to Ethiopia from Saudi Arabia between April 2017 and August 2021 intended to return to Tigray, according to the United Nations data.

The Tigrayans are apparently caught up in a tough expulsion program by the Riyadh regime, besides a major crackdown by Ethiopia's central government targeting people suspected of supporting separatist forces from their northern homeland region of Tigray.

They are said to have been exposed to a litany of abuses, including being beaten by rubber or wooden rods, deprived access to families, forced to pick coffee for free, and denied food and water.

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