RIYADH (Dispatches) – New details are emerging of the squalid detention conditions facing thousands of migrants from Ethiopia – men, women and children – some who were chased across the border from Yemen into Saudi Arabia this year amid gunfire because of coronavirus fears.
A new report released on Friday by Amnesty International describes widespread abuses, including beatings and electrocutions, in Saudi detention facilities. Detainees described being chained together in pairs and being forced to use cell floors as toilets.
"Surrounded by death and disease, the situation is so dire that at least two people have attempted to take their own lives,” Amnesty researcher Marie Forestier says in the report.
"Pregnant women, babies and small children are held in these same appalling conditions, and three detainees said they knew of children who had died.”
The abuses highlight one of the most popular, and most dangerous, migrant routes in the world. The Saudi government did not immediately comment.
Thousands of Ethiopians cross into Saudi Arabia every year after a journey across the Red Sea or Gulf of Aden from Somalia or Djibouti and through Yemen that is reeling from a Saudi-led war, looking for better lives.
Amnesty International said thousands of Ethiopian migrants had been working in northern Yemen, earning money to pay for their passage to Saudi Arabia.
The International Organization for Migration says some 2,000 Ethiopians are stranded on the Yemeni side of the border without food, water or healthcare.
Now migrants say they are held in life-threatening conditions.
"I wouldn’t have left my country had I known this hellish condition would await me,” another detained migrant told the AP. "I had some suicidal thoughts in the past. It is just unbearable, especially during those very hot days, since we don’t have an air conditioner. And they beat us with electric cords whenever we complain. And they took all our money and cell phones.”
Ethiopia’s state minister at the foreign ministry, Tsion Teklu, told the AP that up to 16,000 Ethiopians are estimated to be held in Saudi prisons. She said some 4,000 have been repatriated since April.