It's tough when you are targeted for deportation in a foreign country. You are always on the run. Its far worse when you are treated like a criminal.
This is unfortunate situation for most Ethiopians living in Saudi Arabia. Since 2017, when Saudi authorities began to deport migrants from the East African country, about 300,000 has faced dehumanizing conditions before being deported.
It is estimated that about half a million Ethiopians are living in the Saud Kingdom and work in low-skilled and poorly paid jobs. Most of the locals are employed in the manual labour in construction and domestic service.
Ethiopians migrate to Saudi Kingdom through the perilous Red Sea crossing from Djibouti to war torn Yemen. Most are escaping poverty and unemployment back in their home country.
Human Rights Watch believes that there is higher level of undocumented migrant crossing Mediterranean sea.
Hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians were deported in a chaotic crackdown between 2013 and 2014. Though the numbers are higher this time, the situation has gone largely unnoticed.
“They have systematised the deportation machine now,” said Adam Coogle of Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Deportees return empty-handed and report serious abuses by Saudi police and prison guards. Many have been sent back home in poor health conditions and few individual have been reported dead after arriving at the airport in Addis Ababa.
Saudi Arabia is one of few countries that has not ratified the main international treaties relevant to immigration detention.
According to the Geneva-based Global Detention Project, the line between immigration detention and criminal incarceration in Saudi Arabia is often unclear.
There is no independent oversight of detention practices, and the last prison visit conducted by an independent human rights organisation was by HRW in 2006.
Coogle says there are at least 10 facilities including prisons used as immigrant detention inside Saudi Arabia.
“They are treated like animals in these prisons,” said one aid worker.
Meanwhile, a Saudi official has denied the allegations. He told the Guardian that no person under critical health condition is deported.
“All procedures for dealing with cases of illness, childcare, and deportation of offenders are carried out with the oversight of the diplomatic missions of their respective countries,” the Saudi official added.
Guardian reported how Tayib, a deportee narrated his ordeal in a detention facility, where he stayed for five days without food and water. He indicated to have been tortured by the Saudi detention personnel.
He recalled, “even without saying or doing anything, they would still beat you. They punched us with their hands and when they got tired they would start kicking us and we cant retaliate. The most notorious detention facility is in Al Dayer, in southern Saudi Arabia’s Jizan region."
Former detainees reported abuses such as chaining inmates together in a cell with overflowing toilets forcing inmates to sit toilet wastes. He indicated that food was provided once a day through cell windows so that inmates fight over scraps. Sometimes guards trod on their backs and call them derogatory names like dogs animals.
Like Tayib, his possessions, including clothes, were confiscated, “We left everything there,” he said, wearing an Ethiopian Airlines blanket as a shawl.
Children are also detained despite the Kingdom having signed and ratified the convention on the rights of the child. The treaty provides a room for children not to be detained on account of migration status.
Header Image Credit: iom.int