Ethiopian Migrants Describe “Hell” Of Saudi Detention Camps

On October 2, 2020, Amnesty International released a report that detailed the conditions Ethiopian migrants experienced in Saudi detention camps, specifically within the Al-Dayer and Jizan camps. Amnesty International was able to interview 12 Ethiopian migrants within these Saudi detention camps from June to July of 2020 and verified the statements they provided with satellite imagery, videos, and photos that were analyzed by Amnesty International’s Crisis Evidence Lab.

Detainees at the Al Dayer camp described being shot while trying to cross the border into Saudi Arabia and then being denied healthcare at the camps, while other detainees in the Al-Dayer camp detailed how they were forced to use their cells as toilet spaces. Zenebe, whose name was changed for anonymity, said that “It’s hell, I’ve never seen something like this in my life… There are no toilets. We urinate on the ground, not far from where we sleep. Sometimes we had to walk on it.” As a result of these unsanitary conditions, detainees reported having various skin infections, diarrhea, and yellow fever.

Two other detainees reported the use of torture by guards within the camps. Solomon, age 28, stated, “[The guards] used this electric device… It made a small hole on my clothes. I saw a man whose nose and mouth were bleeding after that. Since then, we don’t complain anymore because we’re afraid they’ll do again the electric thing on our back.” Torture within the Saudi detentions camps has extended beyond electric shock, as other detainees have reported beatings and shootings after they had complained to the guards about conditions within the camps. Amnesty International documented at least three deaths based on eyewitness testimony and an additional four deaths with a lack of additional corroboration, although there is no official conclusion as to the causes of death.

Pregnant women and children are at serious risk within these camps due to a lack of adequate healthcare. Roza, a woman who spent time at the Jizan camp while six months pregnant, said that there were at least 30 other pregnant women within her cell. When women were eventually allowed to visit the doctor in Jeddah, the women had metal chains put on their legs, were denied ultrasounds, and given the same pills despite having different healthcare needs and conditions. Many women gave birth during their time in these detention camps and, after giving birth at a medical center, were forced to return back to the same conditions with their newborn baby. Three women, who remained anonymous in their interviews with Amnesty International, reported that two babies and three toddlers had died while in Mecca, Jeddah, and Al-Dayer camps.

Ethiopian officials have been made aware by Amnesty International of the conditions within the Saudi detention camps but have cited a lack of available quarantine space as a significant barrier to repatriating these Ethiopian migrants. However, between April and September of 2020, an estimated 34,000 Ethiopian migrants returned back home to Ethiopia, with 3,998 of these migrants returning back to Ethiopia from Saudi Arabia. Despite this progress, Ethiopia must pledge to providing access to safe and voluntary repatriation for any Ethiopian migrants wishing to return back to Ethiopia. Members of the international community as well must work on providing access to safe spaces and resources for Ethiopian migrants who already experienced varying levels of trauma by fleeing their homes.

Marie Forestier, an advisor on Refugee and Migrant Rights for Amnesty International, states that “If quarantine spaces remain a significant obstacle, other governments and donors must support Ethiopia to increase the number of spaces, to ensure migrants can leave these hellish conditions as soon as possible. Nothing, not even a pandemic, can justify the continued arbitrary detention and abuse of thousands of people.” Above all, Saudi Arabia must release all detainees from these detention camps immediately to prevent any further human rights abuses and must work with the Ethiopian government and other members of the international community to rectify these traumas and protect and advocate for the welfare of the Ethiopian migrant community.