Ethiopia admits 'not doing enough' to aid migrants in Saudi Arabia

Ethiopia admits 'not doing enough' to aid migrants in Saudi Arabia
Human Rights Watch describes the detention of migrants in Saudi Arabia as 'arbitrary and abusive'.
2 min read
03 September, 2020
Recent reports show detained migrants are held in unsanitary conditions [Getty]
Ethiopia on Thursday acknowledged it was "not doing enough" to assist migrants held in detention centres in Saudi Arabia, but stopped short of criticising Riyadh's treatment of them. 

The statement from Ethiopia's foreign ministry came as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government faces mounting pressure at home and abroad to facilitate the return of migrants languishing in Saudi custody amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

"The Ethiopian government needs to exert higher effort in fighting human traffickers and brokers, making border controls more effective, and creating awareness for the youth," the statement said. 

"We are not doing enough." 

Ethiopians have long looked to Saudi Arabia as an escape from poor economic prospects and state repression, hoping to find work despite not having legal status. 

To get there, many board overcrowded boats that are at constant risk of sinking during sea crossings that can last up to 24 hours. 

Up to half a million Ethiopians were in Saudi Arabia when officials there launched a crackdown on illegal migrants in 2017, according to the UN's International Organization for Migration (IOM). 

From that point on around 10,000 Ethiopians on average were deported monthly until earlier this year, when Ethiopia requested a moratorium because of the pandemic.

Human Rights Watch estimates that "hundreds if not thousands" of migrants are still being held, and describes the detention as "arbitrary and abusive".

In recent days the British newspaper The Telegraph has published interviews with migrants as well as photos and video footage showing unsanitary detention centres where floors are covered with sewage from clogged toilets.

Saudi authorities in Riyadh could not be reached for comment. 

The kingdom's embassy in London told The Telegraph that the Ethiopian authorities "have refused" to take the migrants back "under the claim of not being able to provide adequate quarantine facilities upon their arrival". 

Ethiopia disputed this in its statement on Thursday, saying it had "never refused to receive its citizens from any country but operates on according to principle and the availability of resources". 

In July the president of Ethiopia's Tigray region, home of many of the migrants, wrote a letter to Saudi Arabia's King Salman asking that the migrants be airlifted directly to the regional capital Mekele. 

The government statement on Thursday took pains to praise Ethiopia's collaboration with Saudi Arabia, an important source of financing, citing Riyadh's "outstanding support extended to our citizens in general and Ethiopian irregular migrants in particular".

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