The Observers

Ethiopian migrants detained in Saudi prisons living in deplorable conditions

Thousands of Ethiopian migrants in Saudi prisons are living in horrifying conditions, locked up in overcrowded and dirty cells, starving, mistreated and beaten.
Thousands of Ethiopian migrants in Saudi prisons are living in horrifying conditions, locked up in overcrowded and dirty cells, starving, mistreated and beaten. © Observers

At the beginning of June, Saudi authorities began to arrest Ethiopian migrants in large numbers, even those who were documented and legal, arresting them on the street and in cafés and conducting house raids. This has led to increasingly overcrowded prisons where migrants are kept in dirty cells, given meager portions of food and water each day, and regularly mistreated and beaten. 

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Thousands of Ethiopian migrants are currently living in these horrifying prison conditions, some having been held for months. 

We spoke to Arafat Jibril Bakrii, a human rights activist who has been helping migrants to share photos and videos of their living conditions. She told us that they have had to sleep in the bathrooms in order to get some space. Sickness and disease are also rampant in the prisons, but guards often beat people who are sick.

On August 23, the Ethiopian consulate in Saudi Arabia published a list of 10 Ethiopian nationals who had died, including a child, in the al-Shumaisi detention centre in Jeddah.

In an investigation published in October 2020, Amnesty International reported several cases of torture of Ethiopian detainees, highlighting two people who had received electric shocks after they complained about conditions. The NGO called on Saudi authorities to "immediately and significantly improve detention conditions, end torture and other ill-treatment, and ensure detainees have access to adequate food, water, sanitation, health care, accommodation and clothes".

>> Read more on The Observers: In Saudi prisons, Ethiopian migrants are beaten and ‘forced to drink toilet water’