By Awol Kasim Alo
An estimated 30, 000 Ethiopian nationals are suffering in Saudi jails
There are an estimated 30, 000 Ethiopians currently suffering in horrific conditions in Saudi jails because the Ethiopian government is UNWILLING to facilitate their return home. Saudi authorities are willing to pay the costs of repatriation but Ethiopia, the home country of the detainees, is unwilling to allow them to return to their own country.
Back in September last year, the Telegraph revealed appalling attempts by Ethiopian authorities to silence its own citizens who were calling for help from inside brutal Saudi jails. They tried to bury evidence of abuse against their own citizens by a foreign state. In October 2020, Amnesty International issued a report in which it described revolting treatments of detainees including killings, and rape”. In December 2020, Human Rights Watch revealed the deteriorating conditions of the detainees and the ongoing abuse by Saudi authorities@ “In one case, a 27-year-old man from Ethiopia witnessed the unlawful killing of three other detainees, two of whom were beaten so badly by the guards that they died immediately as a result of their injuries; the third died two hours later”.
There is a lot to be said about Saudi authorities and their treatment of detainees but the behavior of Ethiopian authorities is far more appalling. The vast majority of people detained by Saudi authorities are people who do not have permit to work. According to people I spoke to, it is not uncommon for people who work without permit in Saudi to be arrested and deported: “In the past, when people are arrested, they will be deported within a week. Now, Saudi authorities are indefinitely keeping people in jail in horrific conditions because Ethiopian authorities refused to accept them”, he told me. This is consistent with what Saudi authorities told the Telegraph.
Citizens have the right to return to their country. The government has a legal obligation to protect its citizens at home and abroad. This is one of the most fundamental duties of any government – protecting its citizens from harm. So why is the Ethiopian government turning a blind eye towards tens of thousands of citizens facing an imminent risk of death in foreign prisons? It is important to note that Saudi authorities are willing to cover the costs of returning the detainees to their country. So the Saudi case is different from the Lebanon case in which Lebanese authorities were unable to cover costs of repatriation. In Saudi, authorities are willing to pay for the cost of deportation and all the Ethiopian government was expected to do was allow their return to their country and their families. They refused.
I see absolutely no justification for a government to deny citizens the right to return to their own country. It is unconscionable that authorities are abandoning their own citizens languishing in horrendous conditions in foreign prisons.