“Saudi Arabia Should Stop Deporting Tigrayan Migrants to Ethiopia” HRW
Addis Abeba – Ethiopian authorities have arbitrarily detained, mistreated, and forcibly disappeared thousands of ethnic Tigrayans recently deported from Saudi Arabia, Human Rights Watch said today. Saudi Arabia should stop holding Tigrayans in abhorrent conditions and deporting them to Ethiopia, and instead help the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to provide them with international protection.
Ethiopian authorities have transferred Tigrayan deportees from Saudi Arabia to reception centers in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia’s capital, where some were being unlawfully held. The Ethiopian authorities have also apprehended Tigrayan deportees at checkpoints on the roads to Tigray or at the Semera airport in the Afar region and transferred them to detention facilities in Afar or southern Ethiopia.
“Tigrayan migrants who have experienced horrific abuse in Saudi custody are being locked up in detention facilities upon returning to Ethiopia,” said Nadia Hardman, refugee and migrant rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Saudi Arabia should offer protection to Tigrayans at risk, while Ethiopia should release all arbitrarily detained Tigrayan deportees.”
Various factors, including unemployment and other economic difficulties, drought, and human rights abuses, have driven hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians to migrate over the past decade, traveling by boat across the Red Sea and then by land through Yemen to Saudi Arabia.
In January 2021, the Ethiopian government announced it would cooperate in the repatriation of 40,000 of its nationals detained in Saudi Arabia, beginning with a 1,000 a week. Forty percent of the returnees from Saudi Arabia between November 2020 and June 2021 were Tigrayan.
Deportations increased significantly between late June and mid-July, with over 30,000 reportedly deported. The surge in repatriations coincided with an increase in profiling, arbitrary detentions, and forcible disappearances of Tigrayans by Ethiopian authorities in Addis Abeba following the withdrawal of Ethiopian federal forces from the Tigray region and an expansion of the Tigray conflict.
Human Rights Watched interviewed 23 Tigrayans – 20 men and 3 women – who were deported from Saudi Arabia between December 2020 and September 2021, with the majority deported between June and August 2021, and subsequently detained in Ethiopia between April and September. Deportees were held in facilities throughout Ethiopia: in centers in Addis Abeba; in Semera, Afar region; in Shone, Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region; and in Jimma, Oromia region. Human Rights Watch sent letters with queries to the Ethiopian National Disaster Risk Management Commission, the Federal Police Commission, the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Washington, DC, the Saudi Arabian Human Rights Council, and the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Interior, but has received no responses.