At least three people died in detention centres housing thousands of Ethiopian migrants in Saudi Arabia, rights group Amnesty International says.
Since March, Huthi authorities in neighbouring Yemen have expelled thousands of Ethiopian migrant workers and their families to Saudi Arabia, where they are now being held in life-threatening conditions.
The group said detainees described a catalogue of cruelties at the hands of Saudi Arabian authorities, including being chained together in pairs, forced to use their cell floors as toilets, and confined 24 hours a day in unbearably crowded cells.
It also urged Saudi authorities to improve conditions of the centres.
The migrants from Ethiopia and other countries had been working in northern Yemen but were forced out by Houthi rebels, Amnesty said.
It added that it has documented the deaths of three adults in detention, based on consistent eyewitness testimonies.
“Other detainees reported at least four more deaths; while it was not possible to independently corroborate these claims, the prevalence of disease and the lack of food, water and health care indicates the true number of deaths could be much higher,” the group noted in a statement on its website.
Marie Forestier, Researcher and Advisor on Refugee and Migrant Rights at Amnesty International, said that the dire conditions have forced at least two people to attempt suicide.
“Thousands of Ethiopian migrants, who left their homes in search of a better life, have instead faced unimaginable cruelty at every turn. Confined to filthy cells, surrounded by death and disease, the situation is so dire that at least two people have attempted to take their own lives,” said Forestier.
“Pregnant women, babies and small children are held in these same appalling conditions, and three detainees said they knew of children who had died. We are urging the Saudi authorities to immediately release all arbitrarily detained migrants, and significantly improve detention conditions before more lives are lost.”
It called on the Ethiopian government to urgently facilitate the voluntary repatriation and reintegration of Ethiopian nationals, and to press the Saudi government to improve detention conditions in the interim.
Amnesty International interviewed 12 detained Ethiopian migrants via a messaging app between 24 June 2020 and 31 July 2020. Their allegations were corroborated by videos, photos and satellite imagery analyzed by the organization’s Crisis Evidence Lab.
All names have been changed.