Ethiopians ‘abused on Gulf route, forcibly deported from Saudi’

5 mins read

HRW report says Ethiopian, Yemeni and Saudi officials have taken few, if any, steps to curb violence faced by migrants.

Ethiopians have long looked to Saudi Arabia as an escape from poor economic prospects and state repression [File: Mulugeta Ayene/AP]

Ethiopian migrants and refugees who have undertaken dangerous journeys to find work in Saudi Arabia are encountering abusive prison conditions before being forcibly deported en masse with nothing but the clothes on their backs, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch.

Based on interviews with deportees in the Ethiopian capital Addis, Ababa, the report on Thursday documented exploitation, trafficking and violence that begin, according to the group, from the moment the migrants set off across the Red Sea or Gulf of Aden to reach the Arabian Peninsula.

It said the people are being exploited and tortured by a network of trafficking groups as they try to cross into Saudi Arabia, adding that officials in the two countries and Ethiopia have done little to protect them from abuses at the hands of traffickers and security forces.


Ethiopian workers ‘beaten and robbed’ by Saudi police

The report also said they have failed to ease the return of hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians caught up in a large-scale Saudi deportation campaign that began in November 2017.

Read Aloud:   10 most followed Ethiopian female celebrities on Instagram

“Many Ethiopians who hoped for a better life in Saudi Arabia face unspeakable dangers along the journey, including death at sea, torture, and all manners of abuses,” said Felix Horne, senior Africa researcher for Human Rights Watch.

“Saudi Arabia has summarily returned hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians to Addis Ababa who have little to show for their journey except debts and trauma.”

The Saudi government has not issued any response yet.

Human Rights Watch


Map: Migration routes between Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia

Ethiopians undertaking the perilous journey by boat across the Red Sea or Gulf of Aden face exploitation and torture in Yemen by a network of trafficking groups, 

View image on Twitter

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

One survivor told Human Rights Watch that he saw smugglers throw dozens of people overboard.

“The boat was in trouble and the waves were hitting it. It was overloaded and about to sink so the [middlemen] picked some out and threw them into the sea, around 25,” he said.

Once in Yemen, Ethiopian migrants said they face kidnappings, beatings and other abuses by traffickers trying to extort ransom money from them or their family members back home. The traffickers include Ethiopians who carry out beatings and torture.

Crossing into Saudi Arabia requires evading border guards who frequently open fire, killing many would-be migrants.

“At the border, there are many bodies rotting, decomposing,” one 26-year-old told Human Rights Watch. “It is like a graveyard.”

After paying the traffickers or escaping, the migrants eventually made their way north to the Saudi-Yemen border, crossing in rural, mountainous areas. Interviewees said Saudi border guards fired at them, killing and injuring others crossing at the same time, and that they saw dead bodies along the crossing routes. Human Rights Watch has previously documented Saudi border guards shooting and killing migrants crossing the border.

Six interviewees told Human Rights Watch they were apprehended by Saudi border police, while five successfully crossed the border but were later arrested. They described abusive conditions in several prisons in southern Saudi Arabia, including inadequate food, toilet facilities, and medical care; lack of sanitation; overcrowding; and beatings by guards.

Despite the risks, up to half a million Ethiopians were in Saudi Arabia when officials there launched a crackdown on undocumented migration in 2017, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Around 10,000 Ethiopians on average were deported monthly between May 2017 and March 2019, and Human Rights Watch said deportations have since continued.

The plight of migrant workers in Saudi Arabia

The plight of migrant workers in Saudi Arabia



  1. When the Wahhabis come to my hoods they address both of us ‘neehna muslimeen, we Muslims’ and ‘akuwaneen as brothers’. But when I go to their joint they change it up the other way around. Now I am ‘al-abd as the nigger’ and ‘al-khadaam, a slave’. Them demons!!! Them one dumbbell door knobs!!! A bunch of lazy good-for-nothing demons!!!

    Once I am done venting my anger at the savage improprieties done to my countrymen/women, I can’t escape the fact that what we have been doing during the last 3 decades has not helped help the situation. That old country has been exploding with a runaway population growth. I am sure most of have noticed it at a close range as I had. My story goes like this. I had left 10 close relatives as 10 in the last 1960’s. All of them married and started families of their own. Those ten individuals became close to 80 in less than 12 years before they stopped breeding(naturally). By the end of the 2000’s those 10 in the late 1960’s now children, grandchildren and some of them great grand children and ballooned to close 400. I know some of may say like ‘what is new with each marrying more one wives as Muslims’. You will be dead wrong about that. Yes there are two of them married to two wives each but they are not the main ‘culprit’ for such an explosion. The ones with single wives seem to think 10 is a magic number, that having 10 children is a must. These are the lucky one since most of them are merchants that there is always money in the family. I was discussing this story with one of my warra Chercher friends. He told me he never looked into his side to see if the same scenario exists in his family. Buy, was it an awakening for him. He came very close. Small towns that used to have less than 500 people have ballooned to have populations of tens of thousands with no new ways of making a living. The land beneath their feet is worked up it does not produce enough to support and sustain the too many feet trampling it. Once in a while construction work comes to town of nearby that does not last a season or two. Now the youth and the entire unemployed family get hired to save enough money to pay for brokers that promise easy trips to the Middle East and Europe without a need for passports. And they end up in quagmires like this. That is if they are extremely lucky to survive the treacherous Bab-el-Mandeb, that sea of tears and Mediterranean waters.

    The solution for such sad reality is hinged upon how quick that country will be industrialized. It does not solve the problem completely but it will diminish it so severely that news of such suffering at the hands of demons will be so scant. With all its earth shattering industrialization, Chine still has similar illegal migration but not at such scale. Besides supporting such hapless people financially, we should all promote the old country as a ready-to eat manufacturing hub. We should call companies we know that they currently have mfg facilities overseas and promote the old country. The embassies of the old country should set up groups who will function as voluntary trade delegations and start attending trade shows and mfg symposiums. If they can find 10 out of a thousand companies they hustled that is wonderful news. I see a lingering weakness on the embassies of the old country in this respect. Especially those of young engineers and business/finance professionals bear the brunt of such blessed effort. We should all keep one reality that many of the products that have been outsourced since the late 1970’s will continue to be impossible to bring them all back. Even with the AI and automation the variables will not be there for the absorption companies need to stay profitable. It ain’t gonna happen, at least in the near future. With industries spreading and women spending more time at the factories and offices, then we can all say jackpot!!! Once our women become wage earners of the family it will be natural for them to get due respect and having a voice in the decision making process for their families. Many of you who might have read my comments in the past you will remember my experience with a Taiwanese family. The man was a manager at a manufacturing company and his wife works at another company as a junior office manager at another company. They have one child only. I asked the reason for that and if Taiwan has the same one-child policy as the Mainland China. He was blunt in his answer. “My wife said no more after our son was born’. But that was not the case with his and his wife’s parents. They have more than 5 siblings each just for the fact that then women stayed home and had no role in such decision as family planning. You take our women out of homes I guarantee you that they will be less and less trips to the delivery rooms. Because they will have the power to say NO!!! Bank on that!!!

  2. myFriends abuse is everywhere: in ethiopia, church ,on the route (lybia and opther countries including sudan)but also in western countries in the name of illegal arrivals. There is always a mandatory detention in every eu oand other countries like canada US and etc

    Please donot be shy and afraid of others tell the truth

    If you only stick your hands on libya nd saudi that is not fair. Just last two weeks UN was calling a war crime when migrant detention was bombed but what about abuses in other countries

    when I hear tha migrants were abused and robbed in Crotia which was reported by CNN , I was confused what about other countries ?

    is it because they will penalize or put sanction on us ?

    funny justification

    In my cplace, colorado, we live with many people and help eachother, but I do know many amharas who have no shelter and a means to meet their daily needs and end up breaking banks. very sad story to share!

    try to advocate for our citizens and protect them from abusers who look only for their own financial benefits disregarding human digjnity and treating as a slaves.

    Abiy is quack he is not even a doctor I donot think he will stand for and protect its citzens. I am sure he is a peacemaker he has alot of time to spend and reconcile political parties in neighbouring countrue slike Sudan etc

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

2 × two =