(VOA News) – Ethiopians in Saudi Arabia say about 1,700 of their countrymen are being held in dire conditions at prisons in the Saudi city of Jazan.
VOA’s Horn of Africa Service spoke by phone to four of the prisoners this week. The prisoners said they lack sufficient food, water and medical treatment, and that eight Ethiopian inmates have died from malaria and other causes.
Jazan is located in southwestern Saudi Arabia, near the border with Yemen. The Ethiopians being held are migrants who attempted to enter Saudi Arabia without visas.
One young prisoner told VOA that he was beaten by border guards and thrown in jail on false charges of drug possession.
“They accused me of possessing drugs I am not even familiar with,” he said. “The court said I am guilty of possessing drugs and sentenced me to 15 years of prison time, 1,500 lashes and a fine of half-a-million Saudi Arabian riyals.”
The prisoners also report severe overcrowding in the jails. They appealed to the Ethiopian government and international community to obtain their release.
There was no immediate reaction from the Ethiopian or Saudi governments.
Thousands of Ethiopians cross the Gulf of Aden to Yemen each year, hoping to reach Saudi Arabia or other countries in search of a better life.