Ethiopian migrants residing in Saudi Arabia have been the target of recent crackdown by local police. Human rights activists voiced concern about the violent conduct.
In an operation commenced 10 days ago, the police forces arrested all Ethiopian migrants mostly from migrant neighborhoods. This is while the crackdown included undocumented and documented citizens of Ethiopian nationality.
In talks with reporters, Ethiopian migrants described arbitrary detention and acquaintances being dragged off the streets. Police officers raided houses at midnight seeking to arrest all Ethiopians living with other groups of migrants.
As a man said to reporters, “The police say ‘we have orders to take away any Habesha’. They don’t give us reasons. They will stop anyone who looks Ethiopian.” Arab states refer to the Ethiopians a Habesha.
Another man resembled the Saudi practice in violently arresting and collecting Ethiopian migrants to Nazi practice in world war 2. Nazi security forces separated the Jews in countries like France and Austria and sent them to concentration camps.
Saudi Arabian violence against migrants, nevertheless, is not an unprecedented practice. While mainly directed against the large community of unauthorized migrants, Saudi monarchy has been recurrently warned for the migrants’ living conditions.
Yet in the past week, large groups of legal and documented Ethiopian migrants faced crackdown, arrest, and unknown fate. Another campaign, eight years ago, resulted in the detention and expulsion of tens of thousands of Ethiopian Migrants.
People with Ethiopian heritage who were born and grew up in Saudi Arabia faced detention too: “Police surrounded our tables and others tried to escape. I tried to explain that I’m here legally and have all my papers, but they didn’t listen, one moment I was sipping tea and reading a newspaper, the next I was handcuffed.” For security concerns, most of these people reject interview.
Saudi Arabia and Ethiopian Migrants; A Long Sad Story
The Saudi administration has not indicated officially why the new assault is taking place. The officials even refrain from publishing the data about the identity and number of detainees.
Migrants rights researcher at Human Rights Watch expressed concern about the recent crackdown against both documented and undocumented migrants. Nadia Hardman asserted that the condition of the detainees is alarming.
“Given the kinds of abuses HRW and others have documented in Saudi migrant detention, we can only imagine what is also happening to these people,” she emphasized.
Hardman reference was to the abysmal condition of detention, or deportation, centers in Saudi Arabia. In multiple reports, Human Rights Watch recurrently warned about torture by Saudi security forces in these centers.
Besides, the sanitary condition of these centers were alarming. Overcrowded rooms and harsh detaining condition, during the hike of covid-19 pandemic, led to the death of at least three detainees last year.
Many migrants told HRW about their concerns of catching Covid-19 because they had seen other inmates with Covid-19 signs. The Saudi officials in charge of the deportation centres appear to have taken no precautions to keep vulnerable inmates safe.
Migrant incarceration in horrible conditions has been an all-time issue in Saudi Arabia. Temporary detention centres hosted thousands of Ethiopian migrants without appropriate food and shelter in 2014. The long deportation process made the centre a hell for the migrants.
The identification 10 confidential jails and detention centres for migrants indicated the harsh dimensions of the issue in 2019. A year later, HRW and Telegraph discovered three detention camps in Jizan and Jeddah with thousands of Ethiopian migrants detained in appalling conditions.