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Ethiopia Admits ’Not Doing Enough’ To Aid Detained Migrants in Saudi Arabia

Ethiopia Admits ’Not Doing Enough’ To Aid Detained Migrants in Saudi Arabia
folder_openAfrica... access_timeone month ago
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By Staff, Agencies

Ethiopia acknowledged Thursday it was "not doing enough" to assist migrants held in detention centers in Saudi Arabia, but stopped short of criticizing Riyadh's treatment of them.

The statement from Ethiopia's foreign ministry came as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government faces mounting pressure at home and abroad to facilitate the return of migrants languishing in Saudi custody amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"The Ethiopian government needs to exert higher effort in fighting human traffickers and brokers, making border controls more effective, and creating awareness for the youth," the statement said.

"We are not doing enough."

Ethiopians have long looked to Saudi Arabia as an escape from poor economic prospects and state repression, hoping to find work despite not having legal status.

To get there, many board overcrowded boats that are at constant risk of sinking during sea crossings that can last up to 24 hours.

Up to half a million Ethiopians were in Saudi Arabia when officials there launched a crackdown on illegal migrants in 2017, according to the UN's International Organization for Migration [IOM].

From that point on around 10,000 Ethiopians on average were deported monthly until earlier this year, when Ethiopia requested a moratorium because of the pandemic.

Human Rights Watch estimates that "hundreds if not thousands" of migrants are still being held, and describes the detention as "arbitrary and abusive."

In recent days the British newspaper The Telegraph published interviews with migrants as well as photos and video footage showing unsanitary detention centers where floors are covered with sewage from clogged toilets.

Saudi authorities in Riyadh could not be reached for comment.

The Saudi embassy in London told The Telegraph that the Ethiopian authorities "have refused" to take the migrants back "under the claim of not being able to provide adequate quarantine facilities upon their arrival".

Ethiopia disputed this in its statement Thursday, saying it had "never refused to receive its citizens from any country but operates on according to principle and the availability of resources".

In July the president of Ethiopia's Tigray region, home of many of the migrants, wrote a letter to Saudi Arabia's King Salman asking that the migrants be airlifted directly to the regional capital Mekele.