In Saudi prisons, Ethiopian migrants are beaten and ‘forced to drink water from the toilet’


Thousands of Ethiopian migrants in Saudi jails live in horrible conditions, locked in dirty and overcrowded cells, starving, abused and beaten, and in need of medical attention. Some of them are in danger of death. One of our observers told us how 10 Ethiopians had recently died in these conditions.

On August 23, the Ethiopian consulate in Saudi Arabia published a list of 10 Ethiopian nationals who had died, including a child, in the al-Shumaisi detention center in Jeddah. When the JowharObservers team contacted the consulate, they did not want to comment on the reasons behind these deaths.

The news came as no surprise to our Observer Arafat Jibril Bakrii, an Ethiopian human rights activist who is in regular contact with Ethiopians who are detained in Saudi prisons, where illnesses such as diarrhea and infections caused by unsanitary conditions are common. .

Screenshot from video filmed in August 2021, showing Ethiopian migrants crammed into the toilets of a detention center in Jazan, Saudi Arabia. © Facebook Screenshot from a video filmed in August 2021, showing Ethiopian migrants sleeping on the floor of dirty toilets, at a detention center in Jazan, Saudi Arabia. © Internet

In early June, Saudi authorities began arresting large numbers of Ethiopian migrants, including those who were documented and legal, arresting on the street and in cafes and conducting house raids.

Following a bilateral agreement with Saudi Arabia, the Ethiopian authorities have been organizing regular repatriation flights for Ethiopian nationals in the country. On July 7, 2021, there were 35 such flights from Addis Ababa. In total, 40,000 Ethiopians were repatriated, according to the International Organization for Migration.

‘The only thing I did wrong was not having a residence permit’

Muhammad (not his real name) is an Ethiopian held in a detention center near Riyad.

There are over 350 of us crammed into one room. Some of us are forced to go to sleep in the bathrooms with all the foul smells, simply because there is not enough space. It’s very hot and we have very little food, just one baguette a day, served in the evening. Many people are sick because of it, they have diarrhea and fever.

I don’t even have enough money to buy a razor to shave my beard and hair. They only give us a small bottle of water for the whole day. We are often forced to drink toilet water.

Sometimes the prison guards beat us, if they find out that we have a mobile phone, for example. It’s hell here. We could die.

I came to Saudi Arabia to work and help my family. But four months after my arrival, they arrested me and I am rotting here in this prison, even though I have not committed any crime. The only thing I did wrong was not having a residence permit.

On August 23, the families of the detainees staged a demonstration in front of the Saudi Arabian embassy in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, calling on the Saudi government to end the abuses taking place in the country’s prisons. According to Ethiopian state television, around 80,000 Ethiopians are currently detained in the kingdom.

Ethiopians protesting in front of the Saudi Arabian embassy on August 23, 2021, calling for an end to the dire conditions in which their loved ones live. © Facebook

Ethiopian Foreign Ministry spokesman Din Mufti said on July 2 that Ethiopia viewed the wave of forced repatriations as part of pressure exerted by the Arab League, including Saudi Arabia, in an attempt to dissuade Ethiopia from filling the Dam reservoir for its controversial Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

Built by Ethiopia on the upstream part of the Nile, this dam has been the source of tension between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan since 2011. Egypt and Sudan believe that the dam will affect their water supplies.

In recent months, the living conditions of Ethiopian migrants in detention centers have worsened considerably, explains Arafat Jibril Bakrii, president of the Oromo Human Rights Organization (the Oromo are an ethnic group in Ethiopia).

‘A woman told me that she saw a fellow prisoner die in front of her’

A few months ago, people I came into contact with told me that they were getting 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 essentially dispensed drop by drop. This sudden change in their living conditions can be explained by the increasing number of arrests and detentions.

When the consulate visited the al-Shumaisi Detention Center in Jeddah, they discovered that 10 Ethiopians had died, including a 6-year-old boy. It is just the tip of the iceberg. The Ethiopian consulate does not have access to all Saudi prisons, only to certain detention centers such as those in Riyad and Jeddah.

Often, before being taken to a detention center, Ethiopians who have been arrested are imprisoned. And no one knows how many Ethiopians die in these prisons. Only occasionally do I get direct testimony from those prisons.

A month ago, a woman who was being held in a women’s prison in Jeddah told me that one of her fellow prisoners died in front of her. He was extremely weak, but they did not know what he was suffering from.

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

Photo sent by a detainee in Saudi Arabia. You can see the marks of a whip on his back. August 2021. © France 24 © France 24

This photo was sent to me from the al-Shumaisi Detention Center in Riyad. The person explained to me that there were 500 men locked in this room. The men detained at the same facility sent me a photo of an extremely thin fellow inmate. They were concerned for his health, because they had not taken him to see a nurse or hospital.

Dozens of Ethiopian migrants crowded into a room at the al-Shumaisi detention center in Riyad. August 2021. © Internet © Internet

In an investigation published in October 2020, Amnesty International reported several cases of torture of Ethiopian detainees, highlighting two people who had received electric shocks after they complained about conditions. The NGO called on the Saudi authorities to “immediately and significantly improve detention conditions, end torture and other ill-treatment and ensure that detainees have access to adequate food, water, sanitation, medical care, shelter and clothing. “.