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Tigrayans deported from Saudi Arabia forcibly disappeared in Ethiopia

President Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia who is leading the war against TPLF.

Thousands of Tigrayan migrant workers in Saudi Arabia who were deported to Ethiopia by Riyadh have been locked up in detention camps and forcibly disappeared, a latest Human Rights Watch (HRW) report has revealed.  

Many Tigrayans who fled their region did so because of impoverishment caused by drought and war and recurrent human rights abuses at the hands of the Ethiopian state. They crossed the Red Sea and reached Saudi Arabia via Yemen by land in search of better economic opportunities. 

Saudi Arabia notoriously mistreats African migrant labourers and subjected Tigrayans to severe hardship by detaining them and abusing them physically. 

Saudi authorities set in motion a repatriation of thousands of Tigrayans back to Ethiopia in late 2020, when the country had just slid into an armed conflict between government forces and the Eritrean army on one side and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) on the other. 

As the internecine conflict ravaged the second most populous African country, massacres, rapes and deliberate starvation became commonplace. Tigrayans have been persecuted as the fragile ethnic harmony of the country crumbled and public mood became more polarised.

It was at this stage that Saudi authorities deported Tigrayans who upon arrival were again locked up and forcibly disappeared in detention facilities by Ethiopian forces. The HRW investigation revealed the story of a woman who was stopped at a checkpoint and taken to a detention facility on a bus ride that lasted 36 hours. Her requests for food and access to the toilet were denied. 

The detention camps are likely to be based in the towns of Semera and Shone, identified via satellite imagery, neither of which is located in the Tigray region. 

HRW calls on Saudi Arabia to cease its deportation of Tigrayans and urged Ethiopia to release those who have been locked up against their will in detention facilities. 

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